Provision of high quality teaching online as a means for addressing educational and social inequalities.

A good education enables a young person to acquire all the basic knowledge and skills they need for life, along with self-confidence, self-efficacy and the capability to contribute to society. There are many facets to this and classroom teaching is only one aspect, yet in a system that places the highest value on outcomes from public exams, classroom-based teaching is the pre-eminent component. In an ideal world this aspect of education at least would be a level playing field, but of course it is not. No two schools are the same, with variations in culture of staff and pupils, resources – and the quality of teaching. The schools that have gained the better reputations are better able to recruit the better teachers who themselves have built better reputations. The pupils of the better schools have an advantage, and those schools are often in wealthier neighbourhoods where children enjoy yet further advantage. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread adoption of one intervention that could make a major contribution to addressing inequalities in educational opportunity: online teaching. If all children were to have on-demand access to quality-assured pre-recorded teaching materials this surely would be a major step forward. On-demand online teaching of good quality could be deployed to: • assist schools that are struggling with provision, who have staff shortages or where poor teaching practice has been identified; • enhance the educational experience of children who miss a lot of school due to illness; • augment home-schooling; • be an asset to any child who finds access to online teaching materials helpful; • supplement the schooling of children who arrive in the UK from other countries, as members of migrant families or as refugees, providing a valuable ‘back-catalogue’ that would make it easier for them to catch up and integrate into our education system. Most online teaching during the pandemic has been ad hoc, with schools asking their teachers to do what they can, with variable degrees of success, some of which is determined by variable IT support. So much more is possible, as has already been demonstrated by the Oak National Academy http://www.thenational.academy. To make the most of this opportunity several issues have to be addressed: • a means for determining what constitutes the best teaching practice and how to identify those best placed to provide it; • how best to organise production, including where there should be competitive teaching platforms or competition to be part of one offering; • whether there should be just be one set of materials for each subject in each year group, or a diversity of material to meet diverse needs, and if so which diverse needs (something that of course isn’t available at the moment); • how best to integrate online teaching with existing teaching practice, so it supplements and augments current teaching rather than undermines it; • how to ensure on-demand online teaching strengthens the teaching profession. It may be useful to consider the recent history of the medical profession, a profession that has had to cope with an incredible amount of change over the past fifty years, due to rapid technological change. In their case a Royal College structure has provided oversight of developments, with a focus on optimising quality of care through peer-review and a system of higher examinations. A similar structure is needed by the teaching profession, with each subject working within a College structure to develop best practice. Teachers currently work single-handedly most of the time. For online teaching to develop to achieve its full potential, a national effort would be needed that promotes team-working, collaboration and sharing, within schools and between schools. Recognition and rewards will be needed to incentivize this cultural shift in the profession. For example, funding provided so that creators of material would receive payment each time their material is used. This flow of money would stimulate entrepreneurial teachers and others to form creative teams, bringing in resources that would enhance the quality of what is produced: more engaging, more popular, more successful, more effective. Online teaching resources should not be used as a substitute for teachers in classrooms. What they should be used for is to underpin the educational experience of children who might otherwise no have access to good teaching – and augment what is currently available. It could release some teacher time to provide enhance the supported pupils receive as individual learners. Some teachers might be able to move to become more tutor or coach than teacher, with other perhaps switching to do expand the offer of extra-curricular activities available: a major source of inequality between schools. As well as helping to address educational inequalities online teaching resources should, in any case, be developed and used to address some other issues: • when a school cannot offer a full range of subjects; • when a school cannot provide teaching, for example when a teacher is ill, involved in an accident, on compassionate leave, or suspended; • when children are unable to attend school, for example due to poor weather, illness, parental choice or – dread to think – further pandemics; There are adults who would like to prepare themselves for public exams, or address deficits in learning that are holding them back. On-demand online learning would be great for this. One group to benefit would be prisoners, many of whom excluded from mainstream society due to poor educational attainment. COVID 19 has exposed the fragility of depending on physical delivery of education. It has also forced schools to make embrace online teaching. This is one clear example where we can ‘Build Back Better’: it is a fantastic opportunity to address one aspect of inequalities in educational provision, but also a welcome a catalyst for innovation, with the potential for many improvements in the way that teaching is delivered.

 

 

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