Let’s build more resilience in to the education system, not just recruit more teachers, writes former teacher and CEO of GLUU, Christine Major

Unfortunately, 2022 continues to see schools under immense pressure, largely due to staff shortages caused by Omicron. 

We’ve seen some eye-catching policy announcements from education secretary Nadhim Zahawi that aim to address teacher shortages. Last year, he called on retired teachers to return to the classroom, with many naming this plan the ‘dad’s army of teachers.’ However, it seems that not many have been keen on the call to arms. 

Mr Zahawi is now calling on troops of a different kind. It has been reported that former service personnel will be encouraged to become teachers, with offers of a £40k training bursary to become a secondary school teacher as part of the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan. 

While these policies are clearly well intentioned, the concern is that they won’t attract the number of recruits needed to bring stability to the teaching profession, and the education of our children.  Everyone involved in the education system needs to look more closely at solutions that help build capacity within the existing workforce. 

Evidently, simply having more teachers would help address the current teacher shortages.  However, ensuring that current teachers are supported to use their time as efficiently and effectively as possible would be of great benefit. We’re now into our third year dealing with the pandemic and have had time to gather evidence and reflect on what works with regard to adapting our education system. 

The Department for Education recently published their School Recovery Strategies, Year 1 Findings report. The report summarises the provisional findings from a study which aims to understand how schools in England have responded to the impact of the pandemic, and what support they need going forward. 

The report conveys that educators have made Herculean efforts to try and make sure that young people’s education has not been adversely affected by the pandemic. However, it also suggests that a wide variety of strategies to support educational recovery have been adopted, and that there’s been no overarching method to this. This is of concern as students and teachers deserve better than a fragmented approach to educational recovery that varies vastly from school to school.  

The report also observes that, as of spring/summer 2021, schools were inclined to concentrate on catch-up interventions that helped the students they believed to be most in need. Whilst this is understandable, a system of triaging educational resources is not desirable. All children whose education has been affected by the pandemic deserve attention. 

As the CEO of an edtech provider which focuses on combining online tutoring with mental health provision, I was also surprised to note that the report places no focus on the role of edtech – especially as the edtech All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published a Lessons from Lockdown report last spring which called for blended learning to continue.  

It stated that the National Tutoring Programme (NTP) should utilise a more diverse range of edtech solutions to help pupils catch up on lost learning and to maximise its reach. This has not materialised, and recent worrying analysis has shown that only 10% of this year’s target for students receiving one-to-one or small group tutoring from NTP tuition partners has been reached. 

The marginalisation of edtech from the discussion about educational recovery is frustrating.  Particularly as the Lessons from Lockdown report said that edtech had the potential to significantly ease the workload of teachers by putting systems in place that support them with lesson planning, marking and data analysis. Clearly, this would be of great benefit currently while teachers are under extreme pressure. 

The APPG report also articulated the ability for schools to use edtech to support students with their wellbeing. Though there has been a lot of focus on the need for children to catch up on lost learning, it’s clear that wellbeing and learning are inextricably linked, and that the mental health of many young people has suffered during the pandemic. 

I passionately believe that we need to improve mental health services in this country and have been working on askOLA, which is an on-demand, out-of-school wellbeing and learning support system. The intention is for the system to support the whole student, both academically and emotionally, addressing their readiness to learn. 

Used to complement and supplement traditional teaching methods, edtech can add capacity to the system at times of teacher shortages, by doing some of the heavy lifting regarding curriculum mapping, planning and resourcing. It can also help non-specialist teachers called in to cover a class outside their wheelhouse in lesson delivery. 

Edtech has so much to offer students and teachers, but it’s not being utilised to its full potential.  The government needs to implement a more coherent educational recovery strategy now. One that fully harnesses the power of edtech and allows it to add the resilience into the teaching system that is desperately needed.

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