From the journal

#UnlockingEducation promotes character education and cross-sector collaboration as ways of solving the COVID crisis

Over 300 people attended last night’s #UnlockingEducation, a virtual roundtable featuring speakers from across education. We had representation from MATs, Independent Schools, Boarding Schools, Education research in both our panelist lineup and attendees. If you were speaking, watched as an attendee, or even asked a question — thank you.

Despite covering a huge range of topics, two clear main threads of agreement were uncovered. All the speakers in some way mentioned that character education was a key theme of the COVID crisis. Not only does the ongoing situation require students be resilient, creative, and adaptable, character education could be a key part of the curriculum going forward. Secondly, the panelists all agreed that cross-sector collaboration could be to taking advantage of the skills and experience the education as a collective has.

Each our speakers had something unique to offer to the conversation.

Baroness Nicky Morgan, former education secretary kicked off the event by highlighting the benefits, and complications, technology can bring. She said
‘In the past we’ve talked about EdTech internally, in the sense of managing data relating to curriculums, teaching, results or measuring progress. What we’ve now seen is that all of us, and I speak as the mum of a 12 year old, have been been thrown into using technology to actually deliver lessons’. She added ‘using tech also brings some added issues we have to think about. Things like data the data is generated. How do we ensure that if children are having conversations online, that they are appropriate, they are safe, and that people’s privacy is being respected.’

Clemmie Stewart, a head teacher with extensive experience across both the state and independent sectors broke down the perceived barriers between the two models of education delivery. She advocated collaboration, and said ‘this is my pledge: to plan for real and meaningful partnership across sectors. I’m thinking beyond sharing a cricket pitch, or a swimming pool, or having the odd masterclass. This is about sharing expertise, experience, different approaches, CPD through secondment and mentoring, reviewing, sharing tech resources and online learning. But first we have to break down the remaining barrier between them and us.’

Professor Samantha Twiselton, educator researcher and MAT leader gave an insight into the uncertainties Universities are facing with new students starting in September. She also outlined how her students, future NQTs, are using their time now to create resources that could be deployed nationally. She reflected: ‘What seems to have happened is that people have been able to stand back and see the wood for the trees and put the moral purpose—the thing that gets them out of bed in the morning—in the driving seat, and that has helped them navigate through the decisions.’

Adrian McLean, a leader at Severn Academies trust, highlighted how academies could reshape themselves after this crisis, and the challenges they are likely to face. He said ‘many of our students had learning gaps before they went off, how are these going to have widened, and how can we make sure we close them up? These gaps are going to be an individual need, as well as a whole school need.’ However he also noted that in addressing tases school needs, school leaders ‘must decide what character traits are important in their context and build them into the fabric of their schools.’

Ann Haydon, Head at Harrow International School Hong Kong, gave a glimpse of what a post-COVID school could look like, as recently her school returned to the ‘new normal’ many of us anticipate around the world. While adhering to social distancing and transmission reduction practices, she said her school proved ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m absolutely delighted that our pupils and staff can end the school the year, back having face to face lessons’ and praised the ‘focus’ and ‘resilience’ of her students.

Rebecca Tear, Headteacher and Vice Chair at the Boarding School Association highlighted how the valuable latent skills and traits that student have could be harnessed. She said: ‘It’s actually been our students, the ones who have been digital natives if you like. They have shared with us and shown us their real creative side, their understanding of technology and how to harness it. And so we’ve worked with them and actually taken their leadership in those areas but shared with them our understanding of how to translate that into an academic, professional, and appropriate context. It’s really been a case of learning together - which is the best type of education.’

Bobby Seagull, Maths teacher and education influencer argued that schools must take this opportunity to set a new normal. He said ‘when school resumes, it will be easy to fall back into old ways, but I pledge to use my new found technology skills to help my student and other teachers in my own school.’ Using platforms such as Youtube, he said he believes teaching sharing material online ‘allows the democratisation of knowledge to any learner across the world who has access to an internet connection.’

Lisa Capper, Education Director at Nacro, shared her experience delivering education to some of the country’s hardest to reach children. Highlighting the impact of young people she highlighted the he digital divide is very real. The impact of not having a smartphone, not having data, not having access to WiFi or not having access to decent kit has been the single biggest barrier to education and young people getting a good standard of learning. Second has been mental health, and we know from our work with young people around knife crime and gangs, that having access to a safe place and a trusted adult to talk to about those issues has been one of the key reasons that have kept young people engaged and on that pathway to progression.’

After some incredible questions and answers from the audience, it was David Harkin, CEO of 7billionideas and Alastair Stewart who best summed up the evening. David said: ‘our panelists will return to their day jobs tomorrow and live and breathe the pledges made tonight. I urge all of you to consider how you will make your mark in Education’. Alastair said ‘I think you have seen tonight … we are blessed with some of the finest people imaginable to look after our young folk.’

You can listen to the podcast of the webinar’s recording here.

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