Practices During COVID-19
Practices and views of education during the COVID-19 outbreak:
We asked practitioners and families if the lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak changed their workload, responsibilities, priorities, and views of education. Working patterns for practitioners varied from 1 to 5 days a week combining work at home and in setting. Additional responsibilities during the outbreak included coordinating distance learning/home-schooling and responsibilities relevant to children’s wellbeing as well as administrative tasks to support provision for children, training and mentoring of colleagues. Educational settings prioritised communicating with stakeholders, online learning, safeguarding, admin, wellbeing, and their own Continuous Professional Development (CPD). A high percentage of practitioners and families prioritised wellbeing and safeguarding over learning progress to meet the exceptional circumstances of the lockdown. Qualitative responses discussed how practices changed based on these new priorities, and what reasonable adjustments needed to be made to respond to the needs of ‘vulnerable’ children during the outbreak. Finally, practitioners and families reflected on the purpose of education beyond academic achievement and emphasised opportunities to go beyond curriculum mandates, to explore alternative resources and to appreciate the value of developing social and life skills.
Findings in more detail showed that:
Working hours of practitioners varied from 1 day to 5 days a week combining work from home and in setting. 54% of practitioners reported finishing all tasks in the time given, 27% regularly working overtime and 19% sometimes working overtime.
Table 5 presents the new responsibilities that practitioners had during the lockdown in addition to what they had before. Percentages per row represent the proportion of participants selecting each option in the total of participants in their group (Practitioners N=63, Families N=76). As shown in the table, higher percentages were accrued for coordinating distance learning/home-schooling and responsibilities relevant to children’s wellbeing as well as administrative tasks to support provision for children, training and mentoring of colleagues.
Additional Responsibilities of Practitioners during the COVID-19 Lockdown
|Additional Responsibilities during COVID-19 Lockdown||Raw Number||Percentage|
|Overseeing daily practice for the whole setting||4||6.3|
|Coordinating SEND provision for the whole school||2||3.2|
|Coordinating SEND provision for a group of children||7||11.1|
|Delivering SEND provision||5||7.9|
|Teaching or caring for otherwise specified vulnerable children||8||12.7|
|Coordinating home-schooling for a child specified as vulnerable||22||34.9|
|Responsibilities relevant to children’s learning||9||14.3|
|Responsibilities relevant to children’s wellbeing||12||19|
|Responsibilities relevant to children’s safeguarding||9||14.3|
|Coaching or mentoring colleagues||4||6.3|
|Admin related to provision, training, mentoring etc||10||15.9|
Note. Participants could select multiple options resulting in percentages not adding up to 100%.
As shown in Figure 3 below, during the COVID-19 lockdown, educational settings prioritised communicating with stakeholders, online learning, safeguarding, admin, wellbeing, and their own Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
Priorities during COVID-19 for Practitioners
When asking practitioners about how their priorities changed due to the outbreak, 66.7% said that they regularly prioritised wellbeing and safeguarding over learning progress to meet the exceptional circumstances of the lockdown, and 22.2% reported that they frequently did that. Similarly, 44.4% of practitioners said that they regularly prioritised monitoring of hygiene and social distancing measures over other activities, 20.6% said that they frequently did so, and 15.9% that they did so a little. In relation to guiding or delivering risk assessment for ‘vulnerable’ children, 33.3% and 28.6% reported regularly or frequently engaging with it, when 23.8% engaged with it a little. In the same questions to families, we received similar responses. 68.4% said that they regularly prioritised wellbeing and safeguarding over learning progress to meet the exceptional circumstances of the lockdown, 11.8% reported that they frequently did that, and 13.2% that they did that a little. Similarly, 39.5% of families said that they regularly prioritised monitoring of hygiene and social distancing measures over other activities, 31.6% said that they frequently did so, and 23.7% that they did so a little.
In a question about whether the lockdown helped practitioners to rethink their priorities for their vulnerable children, 50.8% agreed that it did, 11.1% disagreed and 38.1% were indecisive. In the same question, 36.8% of families agreed that they rethought of their priorities, 27.6% disagreed and 32.9% were indecisive. Qualitative responses referred to redesigning the curriculum and being more aware of the impact of home circumstances on vulnerable students’ learning. On the other hand, there were practitioners and families who emphasised always having the same priorities regardless of the new circumstances imposed by the outbreak. Families also highlighted the importance of mental health regardless of the situation in which education happens as well as of the benefits of in-school education.
When asked about what reasonable adjustments may mean in times of crisis, 76.2% of practitioners said that they had changed their practice or views during the outbreak, and 23.8% said that they had not changed. Qualitative answers showed that practitioners have spent more time on safeguarding to respond to the needs of their students during the lockdown, have discovered alternative ways of learning, managed to set up new learning and safeguarding procedures in a very limited amount of time, have seen a change in priorities of their settings from learning to wellbeing/safeguarding, reconsidered the concept of risk during situations of crisis, emphasised the importance of making sure students have an adult and a safe environment to speak about their anxieties and verbalize concerns, felt more alert about what they can do to support the students and reached out to families with training and resources, identified gaps in the supporting system for ‘vulnerable’ children amplified by interrupted contact with them and their families, and appreciated positive effect of collaboration between school staff and local authorities in adjusting learning/wellbeing/safeguarding support.
In another question, 42.9% of practitioners and 26.3% of families said that they felt happy to have developed new skills to support vulnerable children better.
When asked about the purpose of education beyond learning, 50% of practitioners and 64.5% families said that they did not change their views during the outbreak. However, another 50% of practitioners and 35.5% of families said they did change. In another question, 79.4% of practitioners agreed that the lockdown enabled thinking beyond curriculum requirements, tests, exams, and Ofsted ratings and felt this should stay after the lockdown. In a similar question, 40.8% of families agreed that the lockdown enabled them to think beyond learning, exams and scores, 22.4% disagreed with the statement and 26.3% were indecisive. Qualitative comments from practitioners emphasised the importance of education to go beyond academic achievement and curriculum mandates for “vulnerable” children, of considering the learner holistically including factors affecting access to education, such as socioeconomic background, safe family environment and family beliefs regarding education. They also felt that the outbreak gave practitioners the freedom to look for alternative resources, refine their priorities, focus more on social skills and life skills, consider the value of direct interaction of teachers and children in formal education and highlighted the sense of community which can provide support and safety for young individuals. Families’ qualitative responses highlighted always thinking beyond exams, and already appreciating the social value and enjoyment of learning in formal education.
The following sections discuss participants’ views on responding to the children’s needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. Practitioners and families’ views are compared by theme.
Notions of vulnerability:
Overall, practitioners and families seemed to feel that during the COVID-19 outbreak the children they are responsible for were more vulnerable than the general student population. The two groups of participants showed the opposite picture when asked whether they felt vulnerable themselves with practitioners feeling overall less vulnerable than families. We asked about two main reasons for a rise in concerns during the outbreak, safety from COVID-19 and isolation due to the lockdown. Regarding the former, practitioners appeared more worried than families. Finally, overall, both groups considered that isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown can have a negative impact on mental health.
Findings in more detail showed that:
When asked whether they feel that during the COVID-19 outbreak the children they are responsible for are more vulnerable than those not in the list of governmental guidance, 27% of practitioners responded that they felt that regularly and 31.7% frequently. A 28.6% said that they felt that a little and 11.1% not at all. Similarly, 63.2% of families felt that their children are more vulnerable than the general student population during the COVID-19 outbreak. 18.4% disagreed and another 18.4% were indecisive.
When asked if they feel vulnerable themselves in terms of wellbeing, mental health, and workload during the outbreak, 46% of practitioners said that felt that a little and 22.2% not at all. 9.5% felt vulnerable regularly and 22.2% frequently. Responses from families showed the opposite picture. 30.3% of families said that they felt vulnerable regularly, 23.7% frequently, 28.9% felt that a little and 15.8% not at all. Qualitative responses from both groups referred to difficulties with balancing work, childcare, home learning and caring for family members, as well as worrying about their own health.
When asked specifically about any worries about protection from COVID-19 for them, colleagues, and students, 31.7% and 36.5% of practitioners said that this was a regular or frequent worry, with 20.6% worrying a little and 6.3% not at all. Families appeared more optimistic than practitioners, with 25% and 15.8% of families saying that this was a regular or frequent worry. However, another 31.6% of families worried a little and 23.7% not at all.
When asked whether they are worried about vulnerable children’s isolation or low school attendance during the outbreak, 46% and 25.4% of practitioners reported worrying regularly or frequently. 23.8% said that they worried a little and 4.8% not at all. In another question, 84.1% of practitioners and 65.8% of families expressed a concern about the impact of isolation on children’s mental health or social skills. Qualitative responses explaining the statement further emphasised the impact of isolation on children’s mental health. However, there were also practitioners whose vulnerable learners kept attending school throughout the outbreak, so did not feel that isolation had that strong an impact on them.
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