The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, that there are fundamental problems with the parity of access to education in the UK. Our CEO, Antonia Byatt, writes about how the gap has become more entrenched with school closures, and about the loss of emotional and social learning in home learning packages.
It’s a strange and tough time for many young people. It’s been over a month since schools closed due to COVID-19 and many of them have lost their rites of passage – end of year exams, proms and graduations, summer parties and sports days. And however connected they are online, it’s not the same as physically being together: hugging, dancing, singing, supporting one another.
It’s that support which adds a richness to going to school that you can’t find anywhere else. We’re concerned that school closure will have long term effects for young people. Learning at home is not the same as learning in school with the support of a skilled teacher. Schools and teachers have been amazing at responding quickly (and with no notice) but many have had to prioritise welfare over learning.
At private schools, 51% of primary and 57% of secondary students have availed of online lessons every day, twice as likely as in state schoolsSutton Trust, Impact Brief: School Shutdown
The Sutton Trust recently published an impact brief on school shut down noting that only ‘a third of pupils are taking part in online lessons while schools are closed. However, at private schools, 51% of primary and 57% of secondary students have availed of online lessons every day, twice as likely as in state schools’. We know that only 5% of vulnerable students are attending open schools. We also know that many students fall behind during the summer holidays – that period is now going to be at least twice as long. The gap between many First Story students and their more privileged peers will grow even greater. Catching up is going to be the big issue of next year.
What’s more, online resources are not much good if you don’t have a laptop or Wi-Fi. And while we welcome the government’s recently announced tech support for disadvantaged students, the Sutton Trust also found that ‘12% of [teachers] in the most deprived schools also felt that more than a third of their students would not have adequate internet access’.
So, there is much to be done. I’ve read so many articles by parents saying how overwhelmed they are by having to deal with home education. And those are likely to be the confident ones. We know most parents want the best for their children but there is a huge confidence gap among parents too, which becomes more pronounced when factoring in educational qualifications. All these aspects combined mean many young people will effectively miss out on a whole term of learning.
Squeezed space for extra-curricular activities
And that’s just if we’re talking about academic attainment. Young people will also miss out on a term’s worth of emotional and social learning. The things that that can’t quite be replaced without school but are so important to all round development.
Reading opens up the world and helps us make sense of it. Writing does the same. This kind of enrichment isn’t a luxury – it is a necessity.
Students will return to school carrying with them the effects of lockdown. The past couple of months have accentuated the crucial role schools play supporting welfare and wellbeing. Writing together, like in First Story workshops, gives young people the much needed time and space to explore and articulate their experiences. The chance to write alongside each other, laugh and cry together will feel like a huge benefit compared to the loneliness of the last few months. It builds confidence too – confidence which may well have been knocked through working alone with reduced support.
The Reading Agency’s recent research found that more teenagers were reading during lockdown. Reading opens up the world and helps us make sense of it. Writing does the same. This kind of enrichment isn’t a luxury – it is a necessity. First Story will be there to make sure all students have the chance to access those benefits.
What is First Story doing?
The summer term is all about producing anthologies and our editorial team is steaming ahead with them. We want students to have something to be proud of at the end of the summer ‘term’. As soon as everyone is back at school, we’ll make sure publications are celebrated – even more loudly than usual!
And to provide enrichment for every young person, not just First Story students, we are launching National Writing Day this week! Working with several major partners across the literacy sector including Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, the British Library, National Poetry Day, National Literacy Trust and others, we’re providing a set of trusted and expert resources to support young people’s writing. The resources are designed to work for parents as well as teachers. You can find them here.
We’re also launching nine virtual writing tutorials led by First Story Writers. The video tutorials will give young people the chance to work alongside one of our writers; they are creative and engaging; and they can be accessed on a phone, or a computer, or with dodgy Wi-Fi.
We hope that young writers will share what they write at #writefromhome. We also want to hear what young people have to say about their experience of lockdown (you’ll find one of these experiences here)– or whatever else matters to them now. It comes straight out of First Story pedagogy – write in your own voice, from your own experience, using detail.
National Writing Day is all about writing being a positive force, fun at the same time as being an important way of making sense of the world. We’ve got the support of an amazing group of writers to back us up including Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Laura Dockrill, Jackie Kay, Mark Haddon S F Said and Cressida Cowell. Please help them, and us, by sharing it as widely as you can – you can find National Writing Day’s Twitter channel here.
When schools re-open
As we go into next year, the First Story programme will be more important than ever, and we’ll be working with teachers this term to get programmes in place for the autumn onwards. We’ll have learnt from doing more of our Programme online, from tutorials to the residential. We’ll be ready to adapt to what is required.
We’ll need all your support over the next few months to make sure this happens. Like so many companies, individuals and charities, we know next year is going to be tough for everyone. Please spread the word with your networks and support donate here to First Story if you can.