Reflections on … Learning from Lockdown

Reflections on … Learning from Lockdown

16 November 2020 – TST CEO blog

Learning to live with the COVID-19 virus has brought us many challenges. For those for whom the virus has brought serious illness, financial worries or bereavement, it is a time of immense stress and sadness.  For all of us, we have had to learn how to go about our lives in a completely different way, finding new ways to communicate with each other, new ways to work and new ways to socialise.  In education, we have had to face and address all these challenges, whilst keeping our communities as safe as we can and continuing with our core business of providing an excellent education for our young people.

I pause here to pay tribute once again to all the staff working in schools, colleges and universities across the country.  The creativity and ingenuity they have shown, the commitment to the young people in their care and their willingness to do what it takes to make everything work is really incredible.  At the Tenterden Schools Trust, we have seen this attitude of determination and commitment from teaching and support staff across all our schools and our children and young people are enjoying being at school, learning and socialising together.  Attendance is high and parents are confident in the arrangements we have in place to make our schools as safe as possible.

But it takes its toll and we know now that we are running a marathon, not a sprint.  We are learning to live with COVID over a long period, not just a few months, and we need to adapt to this new context.  Of course our attention remains on the safe management of our schools each day, the right decisions taken in response to positive cases as they arise and the need to change arrangements in response to new guidance or new scientific evidence.  But we cannot put everything else on hold.  The students in our schools at the moment have one chance at their education and this is it.  It needs to be exciting, interesting and effective despite the constraints of the virus.

So we are finding ways for pupils to continue to enjoy the full breadth of the school experience, including the Arts, sports, special events, assemblies, celebrations, even though these may need to be done in a different way.  And what is more, we are finding that some of the new ways which we have developed under crisis, are actually really positive.  There are lessons from lockdown which we must not forget when we eventually emerge from these strange times.

First and foremost of these for me is a new understanding of the sheer resilience of our young people.  If we ever under-estimated their adaptability, determination, good humour and confidence, we will not do so again.  Whilst we have been acutely aware of the anxieties and concerns of some during this period, we have been so impressed by the way our young people have taken things in their stride, even those who have initially found the changes a challenge.

We have forged new partnerships with parents as we have shared more closely than ever before the responsibility for educating their children.  Our communication with families is stronger than ever and our use of digital technologies for learning, meetings and communication has leapt forward.  We know that for many of our children, ownership of their own learning has developed during this time.  Our learners are much more independent than ever before.

These are just some of the many lessons from lockdown which we must not forget.  And there are lessons for the wider education system too.  We can never go back to the way things were before.  Exams need to be different, Ofsted needs to be different, performance tables need to be different.  Support for families facing disadvantage needs to be different.  Let us trust that the COVID-19 experience will be a catalyst for addressing these aspects of our system which are simply not working for our schools, our young people and their families.

We will look back on this period as a bizarre and, for many, a tragic episode in the history of our world. But if good can come from it and if as educators we can learn some lessons from lockdown, we may also reflect on this time as the time education in the UK came of age.

Sally Lees

CEO, Tenterden Schools Trust