And so, goodbye to 2020/21. There have been many challenges over the last year (and beyond), not least the TAG process (and the uncertainty around what this would look like), the challenges of self-isolation, changes to Covid restrictions and what all of this looked like in classrooms. Added to this the continuing uncertainty around what assessment will look like in 2021/22 and the continuing threat of Covid, and there are challenges that are yet to be conquered.
However, with all clouds come silver linings.
For every challenge or lack of clarification, there have been small positives. It has been hugely impressive to watch the education community craft and launch an online curriculum (often at very short notice, as in January of this year); to see the mobilisation and distribution of tech and resources to students across the country, as well as the work done by so many volunteers, young and old, famous or not, to support students requiring free school meals and additional help. And these are just a few of the immense responses we have seen over the last 18 months.
At the heart of all these responses, at all levels, has been the collaboration and sense of community throughout the education sector with teachers and leaders of all backgrounds coming together. Whether collaborating on resources with different schools and colleges, or simply sharing feedback on proposed innovation over social media, the sense of community within education has thrived.
Now, as we look to return to nearly full face to face teaching from August/September onwards, it is vital that we continue the momentum that started all those months ago.
However, this isn’t to say that collaboration does not occur throughout education (of course it does, and it would be foolish to claim otherwise). The teach meets, the training events, the sharing good practice opportunities and the myriad of discussions that we have at these events, in staffrooms and in corridors, are all great examples of the work being done to drive improvement.
Though, through the pandemic, the challenges that all settings face came into even sharper focus, and brought everyone to the table to discuss potential solutions: English and maths attendance and engagement (and engagement in general); supporting students who didn’t have access to necessary tech or high quality internet; the difficulties facing apprentices as workplaces closed across the country; facilitating catch up and intervention and a host of other challenges.
Again, there are obvious and on-going forums to discuss and table solutions to challenges, with senior leaders from all settings regularly meeting at all levels. However, forums tend to focus on changes to policy and funding (in a bid to communicate with more unity, and therefore a louder voice) and there can be a hesitance to share information at regional forums: it can be difficult to have dialogue about certain elements of college life. After all, different colleges and courses are actively attempting to recruit from the same pool of students and so there is an element of competition throughout the recruitment process, whether we like it or not.
There are also the government funded collaborative mechanisms, which support colleges to interact and engage with local and regional partners to develop their provision. But again, this can be restrictive at times, with colleges working within a tight framework.
Nevertheless, there need be no bigger motivator than coming together to identify and attempt solutions for challenges that impact all schools and colleges across the country. Elements of this will continue throughout the year, but it is debatable whether this will be done on the scale seen in the last 18 months.
With this comes the first challenge for continued collaboration at a deeper level: finding the places and spaces to collaborate in the way we have done since March 2020. During the pandemic, we found the time, the space, the means to have collaborative discussions with real focus on resolving challenges. Now, as we return to ‘normal’ (or something close to it), the usual workload will likely take the place of these collaborations.
With organisations such as the Education and Training Foundation providing opportunities for practitioners to meet to discuss the challenges they face, there is surely the opportunity within the sector to provide similar opportunities for leaders.
About the author
Jonny Kay is Head of Teaching, Learning and Assessment at a college in the North East. He has previously worked as Head of English and maths in FE and as an English teacher and Head of English in Secondary schools. He tweets @jonnykayteacher and his book, 'Improving Maths and English in Further Education: A Practical Guide', is available now.