The Young Academy is our innovation support programme and social investment fund for tackling education inequality. Through our portfolio of social ventures, the networks of schools in which we work, and the teachers we support, we are not only hearing about all the difficulties and understandable frustrations and worries that Covid-19 is presenting, but also of the hope and optimism of having space and time to listen and innovate.
This crisis is unprecedented, but in seeking to understand it and to respond effectively people in the charity sector are looking across at the timelines used in disaster recovery situations.
- Search and rescue – the initial response. In the education sector, the parallel for this would be when school closures were announced. Two days ahead of this, vulnerable teaching staff or those showing symptoms had already been asked to self-isolate. There was a scramble to send work home, identify key workers’ and vulnerable children and try to understand what school life would look like the following week. We will leave this phase to one side in this blog.
- Emergency relief phase – our current daily experience. The environment is changing rapidly day to day and everyone is trying to adapt as best as they can. Our conversations with education leaders, social innovators and think tanks seem to suggest that the education sector is likely to remain in this phase until after the Easter holidays.
- The early recovery phase is the ‘new normal’ that will start to establish itself as delivery models shift and adapt to a nation where most school children working from home.
- The recovery phase will start when infections have reduced to acceptable levels and social isolation ends. Life begins to feel stable again; until a next wave of infection comes. Currently, there are no clear indicators of when this stage will start but it is certain that it bring within an extended period of deep recession.
Our “Emergency relief” responses to our education ventures
At the Young Foundation, we are listening to the issues facing our social innovators and teachers to establish together what we can do to help their efforts.
In response to requests from the education ventures in our Young Academy Investment Fund, we have frozen repayments and interest accruals so that ventures can focus on their own responses to children, young people and families.
We are organising monthly get togethers for all of our education ventures to share what they have learnt and potential solutions and pivots to delivery. We are brokering introductions to new partners that can bring additional support for our ventures at this critical time.
What are we hearing from our education ventures?
For many of our social innovators keeping the lights on will be the primary concern. In the short-term schools will be required to honour their contracts with suppliers, which will help with immediate cash flow. However, with schools, colleges and universities coping with their own huge challenges, it’s not clear whether this will happen.
The government is providing some support, but it is not clear how much will be applicable to very early stage ventures or individual social entrepreneurs. For example, the small business grants of £10,000 can only be accessed if the venture has premises. We need more support for freelancers and very small organisations, so they can continue to address critical social issues that will likely be further exacerbated in the coming weeks, months and years.
Many of our ventures are working to support others during this crisis, for no financial gain to themselves. We are in Beta, a podcast for school leaders, is producing a special series addressing the multitude of issues schools are facing right now. Think for the Future which offers mentoring services for students with behaviour issues, or at risk of exclusion has prepared this pack for their schools. Smart School Councils which supports schools to set up effective school councils and promote debate and democracy is encouraging a Daily Debate. Edukit which offers wellbeing surveys for teachers to better understand their students has put together a list of resources for students to use remotely.
We will be sharing these and other responses to Covid-19 on our Twitter feed.
What are we hearing from teachers?
The situation in schools varies enormously from school to school. In many cases it seems to be taking time for schools to create hubs for their small numbers of pupils, so schools may be operating for a handful of children. MATs and federations do seem to be able to adapt a lot more quickly than others.
There appears to be a piecemeal approach across the country to distance learning for those students at home. Some teachers sent a pack home on the last day schools were open and have provided no further support, while others are providing access to online learning portals. Some schools are phoning vulnerable families regularly, rightly recognising the key emotional role a teacher might play in a vulnerable child’s life.
It has been reported that access to hardware and financial barriers to digital delivery continue with groups who face multiple disadvantages. Schools in the most deprived areas may be the least able to offer ongoing support.
Looking forward to the “early recovery” phase
It is already apparent that education inequality schools is going to grow in an ongoing home education environment. The core challenge for schools is to find the best possible way of reaching and teaching the students who need them most, and how to motivate them in their home environments.
Leaving schools to decide on their own responses will not be an effective or forgiven policy choice. There should be direction given to schools as to the minimum resources and contact they should be providing to each of their pupils; and further support and investment to deliver this. Private schools should validate their charitable status by sharing many more resources with local state schools.
And of course, social ventures – who have spent years focusing on digital routes to supporting children at a disadvantage – will want to be playing a role in creating new ways of engaging students remotely. The Young Foundation, are looking to locating the key, critical areas that need the most support and working with our ventures to respond appropriately.
Covid-19 as a catalyst for digital acceleration and innovation
The closure to classroom teaching will inevitable accelerate the digital capabilities of education leaders as well as young learners. After years of the promises of ed-tech to transform education, but with ongoing, intermittent school closures possible in our longer-term future, schools will now have to provide consistent learning opportunities online, using the best solutions which deliver the best outcomes fort their pupils.
We know social ventures are adept at spotting patterns and insights and identify opportunities for the future of education and learning. In some emergency relief cases, these ventures will quickly pivot and repackage their services or products to meet immediate digital and remote delivery needs. Looking ahead, social ventures will continually need to be responsive to understanding pupils and teachers’ needs, in a fluid and evolving operating environment.
Most importantly of all, how will government coordinate with schools and social ventures to support those young people who have been allowed to fall behind during the school closures as they return to school? What can be put in place for vulnerable young people who will be starting at secondary school with no transition support? The decision of the Government for teachers to grade and rank their pupils GCSE and A-Level grades, is a challenging one when considering some of the inherent bias that places some pupils continually at a disadvantage in the education system, while privileging others. How this affects pupil’s transition into work, and into further and higher education will need even closer attention – with even further investment in young people needed – if the inequalities in education are not to grow even further.
What can we do together as a wider sector of education & social innovation?
- An open call to DfE and tech companies to provide families with tech hardware for home learning. Coordinated by FEA and others.
- Create an architecture for collaboration; where those researching the impact of Covid-19 on education and young people can freely and succinctly share results, insights and evidence to ensure effective policy, pedagogical and pastoral responses for pupils affected by Covid-19.
- A coordinated effort from the FEA to circulate effective initiatives for different year groups for parents and teachers to use.
- A call to funders and corporates to support education ventures to be able to provide their services free of charge to parents and carers.
- An expectation of – and support for – coordinating effort between networks of schools to share resources more efficient routes to delivering in such a distributed learning environment
- Support school staff to be able to remain connected with platforms and peers where they can most effectively learn, reflect and share together.
Sarah Faber & Tatevik Sargsyan