It’s been an episode of bad education

Students have some catching up to do, and teachers too

“A little learning is a dangerous thing” – a line from 1709 attributed to Alexander Pope and frequently misquoted as “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. The underlying suggestion in both versions is that a small amount of information can mislead people into thinking they are more expert than they are, which in turn can lead to mistakes.

But both versions could easily be adopted by the Government at this time amid fears that with the Covid-19 crisis having led to long-term school closures, our children have lost vital learning time they might never make up.

The Government made the closure decisions on facts received as the crisis escalated, facts based on what was known at the time; but there are suggestions now, as more is learnt about Covid-19, that these crucial decisions were made too early, on too little learning. But then to quote another well-known saying – hindsight is a wonderful thing! With schools at last functioning again, the Government is seeking to move forward, reassured – as are parents, teachers and students themselves – by the current evidence that shows transmission of Covid-19 in schools remains low.

And there is no current evidence to suggest that new variants are more transmissible or cause more serious illness amongst children. Throughout the pandemic Public Health England has advised that “schools should be the last to close and the first to re-open”. Now they are re-opened, with enhanced coronavirus safety controls and precautionary measures in place.

Research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies concluded that the amount of daily schoolwork children completed at home during the lockdown declined the longer they stayed at home. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said the Government is considering various measures to help children catch up, including extending the school day and decreasing the length of the summer holidays. But reports suggest that teachers across the UK, at both primary and secondary levels, are overwhelmingly against both these ideas.

The IFS has also backed the longer school day and shorter holiday proposals in its report, and has gone even further by suggesting that students be allowed to repeat an entire school year. Everyone is agreed though, that now children are finally returned to the classroom, there is much learning to be made up, as a lack of learning is most certainly a dangerous thing.

What our surveys show

With students across the UK being tested twice a week, back in March it became clear that the infection rate amongst school children was around half that of the general population, and this, coupled with the increased knowledge we now have about the coronavirus, appears to have affected how we feel about keeping children out of school during the pandemic.

The vast majority of those answering our first survey question, 70%, when adding together the “definitely and “probably” answers, felt that it would have been better to keep schools open more over the past 12 months. Only a combined 22% were against that idea with 8% answering, “don’t know”. Teachers may be strongly opposed to the idea, but there was an almost identical majority, 73%, again by adding the “definitely” and “probably” replies, in favour of longer school days and shorter holidays so children can make up some of the teaching time lost during the pandemic.

Those against the idea numbered a combined 21%, with 11% saying such a scheme “probably should not” be introduced and 10% answering it “definitely should not be”. This time the “don’t know” answers stood at 6%.

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