Regno Unito

The evolution of education and long-term effects during lockdown in the UK

by Thérèse N. Marshall

17th May 2020

At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, the outbreak of which took place in Wuhan (China), no-one in the UK would ever have thought that it would have actually come to a true lockdown situation. The real problem seemed so far away, in remote countries such as China, and even Italy was about 2,000 km people thought.

Nobody in the UK seemed to be overly concerned about the situation, even the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, cast Covid-19 aside as a mere flu-like virus that people needed to contract it in order to develop antibodies, coining the term “herd immunity”. So, people continued to frequent schools, cinemas, shopping centres, living life as if nothing was amiss.

When the whole of Italy became a red zone and thousands of people were contracting the dreaded Virus by the day, hundreds of victims dropping like flies were being reported on TV, especially in the northern town of Bergamo. We saw blood-chilling scenes of endless processions of coffins being transported on Italian military trucks to be cremated in other cities as the local cemetery was jam-packed.

Covid-19 was getting closer by the minute, perhaps it could actually affect the UK after all, people started to think.

Although as time passed and numbers of people who had contracted Covid-19 steadily increased, lockdown was officially declared only on 23rd March, far too late as many have complained and should have been enforced much earlier.

Rapidly, almost overnight, our lives changed on a global scale and little did we know, that the world would never be the same again. Things we normally took for granted became things we dearly longed for. Simple things like meeting up with friends, going to the pub, commuting on public transport, shaking hands with colleagues to name but a few, but also the younger members of our families, our children, had to come to terms with and adapt to the new way of behaving if we wanted to survive the pandemic situation.

Most parents realised that perhaps it was better to keep their children at home and gradually lessons moved, like most countries under lockdown, from a classroom environment to one of an online nature having a rather drastic impact on both teaching staff and students alike, especially for mature professionals who were not as computer-savvy as their younger counterparts and had to tackle working online for the very first time.

Over the course of five working days, teachers went from a normal operations to a reduction of services with regard to after-school activities and inter-school events, to a complete closure, with the consequent need to design an online learning curriculum and create an innovative online learning curriculum and to operate with a re-arranged academic calendar.

In the early days of lockdown planning, many teachers proved to be ambitious and trained the whole staff on the use of Microsoft Teams for the visual delivery of lessons, while others tried their hands at working on other platforms so as to guarantee children the continuity of their education even in this unique, surreal situation that has never before been known to Mankind.

As time passed, teachers began to reflect and modify their plans, putting together a whole school approach from Foundation Stage to Year 10 that had teachers create video blogs to support learning whilst being on-line during the scheduled timetable.  Form tutors were expected to go “live” every morning for 15 mins so as to provide some real life contact as it were and ambitions were tempered while effectiveness for learners and teachers, screen time, challenges for parents and indeed child protection issues had to be taken into account.

Where parents did not have the technology to support the envisaged learning and teaching during lockdown, they were allowed to borrow I-pads. Full educational programmes, revised daily timetables were developed for every year group and clear sets of instructions were created for all staff involved.

What many people are unaware of is that certain schools were forced to keep open, either to look after and take care of the education of key workers’ children or that of vulnerable and difficult kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools were understaffed and the workforce was, in some case replenished by volunteers, who, often did not have the slightest idea of the risk they were running of contracting the virus under such circumstances.

It strikes home when we realise that for some vulnerable children, school is actually the only safe place for them, to protect them from abuse, for some, it represents the only place they can get proper meals. Thus, it was of paramount importance for teachers for even a small number of these “safe havens” just had to remain open.

By lockdown on 23rd March, updated guidance requested that local authorities and schools had to maintain provision for children in alternative provision settings wherever possible, expecting vulnerable children supervised by a social worker to attend school.

However, there was a catch to this situation: teachers could not force pupils to attend. The result was that teachers were travelling to work, putting themselves at risk, only to find very few children turning up.  The hard work social workers performed over time risked being undone, vulnerable kids risked going back to square one, abandoning the education that perhaps they had just started, realising this proved to be the only way out of the denigrating lifestyle they were enduring and when this support fell through, they risked going back to gangs, juvenile prostitution and drug-pumped environments.

So, as of date, although we can see that many children have adapted really well to this unique yet terrifying predicament and we have witnessed that major efforts on all sides have been made during lockdown, but what will the long-term effects be?

Despite everything, there have been both advantages and disadvantages to Covid-19. Not wishing to minimise the tragedy of the countless victims and economic disaster left in the Coronavirus aftermath,  we must admit that if this situation had not occurred, perhaps such a radical digitalisation would not have taken place on a global scale.

From one day to the next, people were stripped of their freedom and where possible,  were forced to work from home, having to stay cooped up and provide support to their children who, in turn, were facing an unprecedented situation that had turned their whole world upside down. No longer could they meet up with their mates and do all the things that kids normally do, which, to a certain extent,  must have had a detrimental effect on their mental health.

On June 1st, schools will re-open after a lockdown period exceeding  months, starting with primary schools, with Reception and Year 1 as part of Boris Johnson’s “conditional plan” to resume educational activities while learning to live with Covid-19, that is still at large.

Secondary school pupils will be informed in due course of the date on which they can return to a different sort of set up as conditions of safety must be guaranteed, students must adhere to social distancing, frequent use of hand sanitiser and wearing the necessary PPE to boot. Those taking exams next year, may be provided with some time with their teachers before the summer holidays commence.

However, many parents do not agree with the scheduled re-opening of the schools, albeit gradual. A recent poll stated that most would probably not send their children back to school as soon as they open.

A great deal of uncertainty with regards to both the re-commencement of education still looms over the heads of many schoolchildren and their parents, while the long-term effects that this whole craziness has had on their mental health, whatever background they come from, will probably unfold and come to light over the forthcoming months when phase-back plans start to kick in.