According to a recent poll conducted by the National Education Union (NEU), an overwhelming majority of teachers, 98%, have expressed opposition to the idea of an extended school day and shorter holidays as a solution to aid children’s learning recovery post-Covid. Instead, the NEU survey of 10,000 teachers exposed the negative impact of poverty on disadvantaged children during the pandemic, resulting in panic among families struggling without free school meal vouchers and inadequate support for families facing eviction due to the Covid crisis.
The union’s survey, carried out between 2-10 March, included classroom teachers, support staff and headteachers, in schools and colleges across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The British government’s plan to tackle the learning loss suffered by pupils during the pandemic suggests longer school days and shorter holidays as viable solutions, alongside subsidised one-to-one and small-group tuition for underprivileged pupils. However, NEU members have suggested a more flexible curriculum (82%), increased opportunities for sports (68%), and practical learning (66%) to facilitate educational recovery.
The survey found that only 21% of respondents agreed that under the government’s national tutoring scheme, tuition was vital for pupils. The survey concluded that school staff were in favour of working ‘nimbly and unconstrained by curriculum diktat, with active and creative elements forming a strong part of that approach.’ Asked about what interventions the government should make, 85% of the respondents expressed that teacher workload should remain at a manageable level, with an additional 80% demanding that social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of students be a priority.
The NEU survey showed that tackling child poverty (68%) should be the government’s priority to support children after lockdown, and the teachers’ comments underscored their role as a lifeline for struggling families during the pandemic. One NEU member reported speaking to an older sibling during the first lockdown, who was panicking because the free school meals voucher email had not arrived. One day before a bank holiday weekend and with no food in the house, the girl was filled with fear, and the teacher will never forget the panic in her voice. Another reported that schools furnished homes for pupils and their families who moved into hostels during the pandemic when they were evicted.
The NEU survey was published at the union’s annual conference, a virtual event this year due to Covid restrictions. The survey disclosed that 69% of teachers are enjoying the new ways of working with technology introduced during the lockdown, 57% viewed online parents’ evenings as a positive innovation, and nearly half, 49%, welcomed increased recognition of the needs of disadvantaged pupils. The NEU joint general secretary, Mary Bousted, has urged the government to take the views of education professionals on board and build back better.
Meanwhile, Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, has called the Conservative government’s response to the pandemic chaotic, exposing inequalities. She urged the government to prioritise a world-class education for every child that promotes wellbeing and values staff’s contributions to recover learning loss. A government spokesperson restated their commitment to investing £1.7 billion in catch-up plans, with the majority targeted at those needing assistance. The spokesperson confirmed that the government is working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan ensuring that everyone has the chance to recover from the pandemic’s impact and that Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed as the education recovery commissioner overseeing these issues.