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Whilst we sadly are not yet in a post-COVID-19 world, and schools continue to manage the threat of both the virus as well as potential further lockdowns and disruption, it is important to understand more fully where schools and education are positioned and what the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated.

Uncertainty is a given for the academic year, and governors and schools can and should be considering how to manage and respond to these shifting demands. They should also maintain a strategic view on what they can be doing to meet the needs of all their pupils.

Inspections

Ofsted has updated its inspection handbooks for September 2021, and more changes will undoubtedly follow given the transitional period has been extended to March 2022. The Key have a helpful summary of all the changes. Governors should be particularly aware of extended inspection intervals of up to six terms for the first inspection following the pandemic, as well as how inspectors will consider COVID-19 adaptations. There is also a new section in the handbook on careers information, education, advice, and guidance (CIEAG) which is of particular relevance to attainment and life outcome.

Assessments

Exams are set to return in 2022 under current proposals. However, that may not only change due to circumstances/disruption, but also as more data is collated and analysed regarding teacher-assessed grades and other alternatives. In the longer term, the pandemic has encouraged fierce debate around what is the future of examinations. This has particularly been the case with A Levels, and what is the best way to assess pupils. The debate over the future of A Levels is particularly applicable as it pertains to technical study and university entrance.

Teaching

Whilst in-person teaching is back, most educators and parents will be keen to continue to make use of technology, both in the classroom and at home to support learning and catch-up delivery. There have been big innovations in this space, but there are challenges too and we’ll explore Edtech later in the term. Similarly, there have been innovations in pedagogy, with increased interest in active learning, gamification, and game-based learning prime examples of new thinking in this space. Staff retention, particularly senior staff, will continue to be a concern for many as workload, long-term stress and burnout take their toll. Governors should be sure to firm up their staffing as well as do succession and contingency planning.

Wellbeing

The added stress on all staff in education seen over the pandemic will change but not lessen. Pupils by in large are happy to be back in school, but there will be residual mental health and wellbeing issues for some time. It is critical that governors are supporting not only changes and improvements to teaching delivery, but also the wellbeing of staff and pupils, under pressure as they are. Please continue to make use of our Wellbeing Governors resources in this regard, as well as Education Support, Place2Be, What Works Wellbeing, Active Partnerships, and the many other fantastic organisations in this space.

Parents

A benefit of the pandemic has been the widespread reporting of increased engagement and relationship building between schools and parents, to support pupils’ learning, at home and school – a case of necessity driving invention. The 2020 parent survey run by Parentkind supports this view: 59% of surveyed parents agree that their school listens to parents (up 9% from 2019), with three quarters of parents stating they want a say in their child’s education at school level, and over half at the level of both government and Local Authority/multi-academy trust. Schools will have to manage this closer dynamic, leveraging parental engagement to improve learning whilst dealing with increased scrutiny.

The impact of the pandemic on pupils and staff have been vast, and yet to be fully articulated. However, there has been tremendous resilience and innovation in schools, all of which provides an opportunity to not only drive efficient and rapid recovery, but improved outcomes for all.

Our thanks to Dr Tony Breslin, Dr Chris Wood, and the Key for School Governors for their contributions to this article.

This article, as with all of this term’s campaign resources, was made possible through the support of GovernorHub. GovernorHub is the leading governor collaboration tool in the country and provides 100,000 school governors, trustees and clerks with tools to communicate, share documents and access the information they need to support schools. Designed by governors, it’s a simple and easy-to-use platform that saves time, improves processes and allows boards to evidence their efforts, all in one place. Contact support@governorhub.com to see how they can help your school or trust.