If a concerted effort isn’t made to support students of all ages and backgrounds as they head back to schools in September, the UK risks seeing a ‘lost generation’ of pupils that will struggle to catch up educationally and professionally. This was discussed at a digital event organised by Big Tent Ideas on Tuesday evening.

Matt Hood, Principal of Oak National Academy, is part of a growing group of teachers that are pooling their resources to create a free online portal with recorded lessons for pupils of all ages. So far, 2.5 thousand lessons in 23 subjects have been watched by about 4.5 million pupils. While initiatives like this have been a great success, Hood is worried about the upcoming term, claiming that what has worked over the past four months won’t do once schools reopen in September.

“What has been created to fit the situation for this term won’t apply to the next. We would be sloppy as an education system if we don’t make sure a Plan B is in place. We need to be better prepared than we were in March and April.”

“Any town in the country could be the next Leicester. We must ask what our backup plan is and I think a blended approach is needed.”

As pupils have had to study from their homes, many fear that the socioeconomic situation families finds themselves in will have a bigger impact on student outcomes than it did previously, due to some not being able to afford or access the devices necessary to take part in online learning. Other than access to devices, Hood also pointed to what he sees as an under reported issue – the costs associated with the growing number of internet data used, which will accumulate faster in households without long-term plans.  

“Telecommunications companies need to exempt certain websites from additional charges. We’re currently charging poorer families more than rich ones.”

Tilly Brown, a teacher at Reach Academy Feltham, works with a student body that largely comes from poor, often minority ethnic, families – something she says manifested itself by only 20 per cent of them returning to school when given the chance to, compared to the 70 per cent or more seen in schools in more wealthy areas nearby.

She strongly opposed calling the current generation of students ‘lost’:

“I think we should be mindful when we describe this generation as ‘lost’. This ignores the immense efforts of many families, assuming children have not been learning anything at this time.”

She pushed for the need to identify the students that have had the toughest experience when staying at home, and highlighted that structural factors such as multi-generational living is likely to lead to students from ethnic minority backgrounds being disadvantaged further.

“There is an increased risk to people of specific ethnicities. This being the case, we cannot expect all children to be able to come back at the same time in September, and this might hit disadvantaged communities.”

“I’m not talking about an exam factory, but I do think a period of assessment is necessary to target interventions for those who really need it and then we can enter a period of catch-up. We need to direct resources so that those pupils can see that gap being closed.”

Baroness Sally Morgan, a Master of Fitzwilliam College, was very clear about what the current priority needs to be when it comes to schools:

“The priority for me is to get the students back to school and back to university. Everything else is second best as far as I’m concerned.”

“We need to have a grown-up conversation about the risks, and focus really hard on countering disadvantages. We need to assess at all stages who is most likely to be left behind.”

The Labour peer expressed disappointment in what she says is a failure on behalf of the Government to prepare students for their return to schools.

“I’m deeply disappointed in the Government’s failure to sort out any summer schemes.”

“If you can build Nightingale hospitals you can figure out where to host extra schools if you need it.”

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