Adapting to the new normal - supporting staff

COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on education in recent months. While we may not understand the true extent of these changes on the future of the sector, it’s critical that we start forward planning, so you and your colleagues feel prepared and supported for what’s to come.

The big changes

Those working in the sector have been forced to quickly adapt to new ways of doing things to ensure across the country didn’t come to a halt. Whilst this has inevitably resulted in some challenges, looking at both the short and long term changes allows us to discover the opportunities that could arise from the changes we’re experiencing.

Let’s explore the big changes.

A shift in roles

The most obvious change has been learning shifting from the classroom to the home, with technology, and those in teaching professions, needing to adapt to accommodate this. Following the move to remote learning, those in teaching have seen a swift change from their role as an educator to half educator, half IT / technology expert.

What does it mean for the future?

The sector needs to continue to embed technology into learning. Young people are used to being surrounded by technology and as such, they expect to see elements of this in their learning, whether that’s a portal for submitting homework digitally, or group activities being carried out on tablets. It’s also expected the shift to online learning will continue to rise, particularly for 16+ learners and CPD courses. Technology needs to be readily available, easy to use and fit for purpose, so those learners choosing to learn remotely can access timely interactions with tutors and instant feedback on their learning, as they would do in the classroom environment.

A shift in pace

Lockdown has meant a shift in working patterns and hours worked as teachers have had to balance a new way of working, with changes to personal circumstances and juggling home life. A survey from YouGov found that 55% of education staff said they felt anxious "very" or "fairly" often as a result of their work while the coronavirus crisis has continued; higher than any other sector surveyed. It’s also been well reported during lockdown that the pace of learning amongst students has varied and that some may have fallen behind their peers. A recent report from The National Foundation for Educational Research showed that school leaders from the most disadvantaged schools in the UK believe that only 30% of their students are engaging with school work during lockdown, compared to 49% in the least deprived schools. The top reason cited for this is lack of access to IT and equipment that’s required to do the work from home. This adds to the pressure that those working in education have faced in recent months, which is why 29% of education staff have reported feeling hopeless during the pandemic.

What does it mean for the future?

Education leaders need to look at their approaches and available support to identify how they can better support learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, to close the attainment gap. Can schools, colleges and training providers work collaboratively with other local schools and centres to support those most in need? Could loaning equipment be an option in some cases? Or at the very least sharing best practice and coming together as a sector to look at how we can work with local authorities and the Government on this issue. Although the Government pledged £85m for its free laptop scheme this has been met with some frustration from sector leaders, who say this isn’t enough. In addition to this, the sector needs to come together to support those who have been working tirelessly to throughout the pandemic, particularly as the sector starts to reopen, which presents a whole host of new challenges for staff. Mental health needs to be considered and staff need to feel supported to carry out their roles safely.

A change in focus from teaching to learning

While learning remotely, there’s been a big switch in focus from teaching to learning; with parents stepping in to help conduct home schooling. As education slowly starts to come out of lockdown there’s an expectation that parents, who have had much more of an input into their child’s education, will want to continue this, particularly in the immediate term, while the sector looks to adapt and make up for lost time. 

What does it mean for the future?

Education staff need to explore ways of consulting parents about their child’s education; whether that’s scheduling in remote meetings or parents’ evenings, setting up a parent committee or providing better support for parents so the feel adequately equipped to support their children with work. The Government has also announced that it is setting up a new online panel of 5,000 pupils and parents to inform coronavirus policymaking, which further emphasises the expectation that parents will be more involved in education, at least in the short term. Involving parents this way could release some of the pressure for workers, and result in a more consultative and supported environment, so workers don’t feel so alone.

NCFE – supporting you and your learners

While emphasis has inevitably been on online learning, it’s important to remember that this is an enabler of learning and there’s more significant factors that need to be looked at as we try to adapt to the new normal.

Mental health should be a big focus and this should be way beyond a centre by centre basis, it needs to be looked at across the sector and led from the top. Even prior to the pandemic teachers expressed concern over workload. The Government’s Teacher Workload Survey 2019, found that 70% of primary teachers and middle leaders ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement ‘I can complete my assigned workload during my contracted hours’. This could be exacerbated post COVID-19 if class sizes are reduced long term and the need to recruit more teachers would be paramount.

Mental health in teachers – our series of blogs: Tips for Teachers – Managing Your Own Mental Health from Stephen Mordue, focuses on how you can maintain good mental health; the foundation to getting the sector back to normal. In early June, it was reported that the DfE has committed to conducting a new wellbeing charter to monitor the happiness of school staff. Staff need to sign up to this voluntarily, which should be encouraged.

In addition, CACHE also offers free access to a continued professional development (CPD) service, CACHE Alumni. This service provides articles on mental health and well-being written by sector experts, along with advice on how to promote positive well-being.

Supporting learners’ mental health – With the number of changes for learners, it’s important to conduct teaching in a way that doesn’t instil fear and working with parents to ensure a consistent approach is enforced both inside and outside of the classroom.

Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) subjects are arguably more important now than ever to build learners’ self-efficiency and develop their resilience, so they are able to meet the challenges of creating a happy and successful adult life.

We’ve got a range of Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (RSHE) qualifications, read more about this in our blog: An opportunity to tackle mental health that is not to be missed.

Lastly, supporting remote learning will continue to be a focus for the foreseeable future.

Supporting the adoption of technology – NCFE alongside our premier partner, Learning Curve Group, has developed high quality qualifications which are suitable for online delivery and supported by delivery-ready resources, to help learners succeed now and in the future.

Earlier this year, RM Education research revealed that only 27% of teachers were confident using the technology provided by their school. 

It’s vital that teachers feel supported and have access to resources and support to enable them to comfortably embed technology into more aspects of their teaching. Technology can not only provide a better learning experience, it can enable better with relations with parents and other schools and sector bodies, making consultation and sharing best practice easier.

Leanne Tonks
Leanne Tonks
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Kylie Aldridge
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