I attended a webinar, hosted by EPI, on the lasted analysis by the OECD, the inter-governmental body which publishes the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results.

Drawing on their 2018 report, Effective Policies, Successful Schools, Andreas Schleicher gave his view on the impact of school closures as a result of Covid-19 and how schools were adapting to online learning. Throughout the webinar, several headlines stood out to me as topics that could have a significant impact for learners with SEND and literacy difficulties

Note: The OECD uses the terms advantaged/disadvantaged schools to refer to a range of measures which reflect the socio-economic profile of those schools and their local communities.

Online learning

The OECD believes only 80% of pupils in disadvantaged schools have access to sufficient IT equipment to learn effectively – by this, they mean a laptop and not just a smartphone.

The UK fairs well in the provision of computers for pupils compared to other OECD countries – far exceeding the number for countries you might think are traditionally more technologically advanced, including Japan. However we know the government’s programme to provide laptops to disadvantaged pupils has been beset by significant delays.

However, where the UK isn’t performing well is with online learning platforms. Just 40% of our disadvantaged schools had these compared to nearly all schools in the private sector.

Resources and staffing

Schools in UK are below average in the use and provision of educational resources, particularly for disadvantaged schools. Educational resources include everything from learning aids to infrastructure. The impact is clear – fewer resources means lower levels of equity across the education system as a whole.

Advantaged schools seem particularly good at providing both staff and space to support their pupils to complete homework. A dedicated room in particular was seen as a valuable asset, but this is where schools in the UK seemed to be behind the international trend.

Despite the ongoing difficulties many schools face with attracting and retaining the right workforce, the UK performs well compared to many other countries in terms of the knowledge and skill levels of teachers. Where the UK is struggling is with overall numbers of teaching and support staff compared to learner populations and needs.

There’s a lot school leaders can learn from looking internationally

Typically, our education system is better equipped and resourced than many others around the world and outcomes remain positive. However, we also know that improving literacy and the quality of SEN support remain system wide priorities. I wanted to reflect briefly on what these could mean for pupils with literacy difficulties and SEND:

Assistive technology: In many countries, teachers are encouraged to integrate technology into their classes. This made me wonder how this effects the use of assistive technology (AT) – does our failure to normalise technology in our classrooms hinder the wider adoption of AT? If true, this would certainly be to the detriment of pupils but could be remedied by school leaders who insisted technology was introduced during curriculum design and lesson planning. In the context of Covid-19 this would make switching between face-to-face and online learning less cumbersome and could provide opportunities for SEND pupils to harness the use of AT to accelerate their learning.

Resource provision: Schools have adapted quickly to giving pupils resources to use at home, but have school leaders implemented long-term resource provision into their wider school planning and strategy? This is certainly something I have not given enough thought to as a Governor and Trustee.

Using school space: Finding additional space after school should not be too difficult – social distancing bubbles aside – and this could really help pupils who either lack suitable space at home or require a little extra support beyond what is normally provided in class. To be successful this needs to be coordinated, especially where pupil starting points and needs are concerned.

Deployment of staff: Staff shortages are most persistent in disadvantaged schools. This is not necessarily a surprise, however the crucial point is that the absolute number of teaching staff matters less than how well teachers work together as team.

Were you at the EPI webinar? Let us know your thoughts!

Chris Rossiter

Chief Executive, DYT

Chris originally trained as an applied psychologist and has worked across the private, public and charitable sector for over 15 years. Has has particular expertise in special educational needs and disability, and organisational psychology. He is a primary Chair of Governors, Trustee of the Astrea Academy Trust, member of the literacy sub-committee of the Hastings Opportunity Area and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.