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Peter Lavender OBE discusses lessons from lockdown, the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on attitudes towards distance learning, and the need to create an open school for the UK.

At the start of lockdown in the UK, educationists were not short of ideas on how things could change.  A notable comment included the significant voices of Sir Tim Brighouse and Bob Moon in May who called for an open school to provide a service to the schools’ sector and support for pupils and teachers in the new home learning environment.  Using the Open Schools in British Columbia (Canada) and in Victoria (Australia) as examples, the authors call for a national Open School here in the UK.  It would use the BBC and Open University resources and the benefits would be ‘high quality self-learning, tutored courses and resources in every subject.  It should explain how teachers in schools could incorporate these resources into their teaching…[and]…create a forum for networking for students of all ages…’

Almost immediately, the BBC responded, reminding itself that its core mission was to ‘…educate, as well as inform and entertain…’ and cited its ‘Bitesize Daily’ package as an example of what it might offer.  Hall says the BBC is ready to ‘…pick up the gauntlet’ and to join a discussion now, to ‘…create a public infrastructure that would make it easier for all schools to benefit’.  It is a call for change and Hall rightly concludes: ‘We cannot allow the lessons of lockdown, and the strength of our collective response, to go to waste’.

It would not be the first time that a major national development has grown from an initiative by the independent and third sector, using broadcasting and distance learning as a major force.  In 1975 the BBC joined forces with the Government and the third sector to launch the first of three national adult literacy campaigns. The power of broadcasters like the BBC lies in their reputation as ‘honest brokers’, change agents and communicators. Without them we would never have got hundreds and thousands of adults learning basic skills.  

The Government’s response to the education challenge has been to provide £1billion to help pupils ‘catch up’, taking the form of a national tutoring programme during the next academic year. It has also supported the setting up of the Oak Academy, an online school to provide backup lessons during lockdown.

But until we are clear what the ‘catch up’ arrangements really look like, the ‘covid generation’ as it has been called will be harried back to school in September without that precious ‘lessons from lockdown’ being learned.  

Peter Lavender OBE

It is almost as if no one has noticed that we do have learning going on in free courses provided by the Open University, and by many other providers large and small.  Or that the  National Extension College (NEC) is still going strong, providing courses for children not at school. I am heartened, however, by other calls – the latest from the Labour Party, arguing again for a task force to create a proper plan for the future of education. The argument is convincing – don’t just give children laptops or some kind of remedial programme, let’s have a collaborative approach and build a fairer system all round. NEC’s robust and well managed approach needs to be better known – and involved in the thinking of those planning future support for children and young people.

Peter Lavender OBE is the Professor of Education at the University of Wolverhampton and a former Trustee of  the National Extension College.

Looking for more on the current state of education and lessons from lockdown?

NEC CEO Ros Morpeth OBE with Anne Nicholls published an article on SecEd, ‘The case for a national open school’. Read more: https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/blog/the-case-for-a-national-open-school-coronavirus-home-education-remote-learning-students-gcses/

“Coronavirus is an ‘opportunity’ to drive change, says Williamson”: https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-covid-opportunity-drive-change-says-williamson

Confused about the 2020 exams situation? Learn more with our timeline: https://www.nec.ac.uk/exams-2020/

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