How did Covid-19 affect school education in the UK?

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened in the United Kingdom, the Government took the difficult decision to of close schools in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus. This meant over 24,000 schools were shut, and over 8 million children were having to be taught at home. Schools were forced to replace this time in class with online learning and home schooling, in most cases facilitated by teachers and with additional support from parents. Teachers had to respond quickly and try to migrate education to online resources and teaching, but often the skills and competances were lacking in order to do this efffectively.

How familiar were UK schools with the use of digital education prior to Covid-19?

Results from the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) prior to the Covid-19 pandemic show that on average across participating OECD countries and economies, only slightly more than half of lower-secondary teachers (53%) reported letting students use ICT for projects or class work “frequently” or “always”. In England (United Kingdom), this was the case for 41% of teachers, which is lower than the average of the OECD countries participating in TALIS. Of these teachers, 75% reported that use of ICT for teaching was included in their own formal training, which is higher than the average of the OECD countries taking part in TALIS (56%). At the time of the survey, 62% of teachers in England (United Kingdom) felt that they could support student learning through the use of digital technology (e.g. computers, tablets, smart boards) "quite a bit" or "a lot", which is lower than the average of the OECD countries participating in TALIS (67%). In addition, only 40% of teachers reported that ICT skills for teaching were included in their professional development activities. These pre-crisis reports therefore suggest that the transition to remote teaching and learning may have been challenging for a number of teachers.

How prepared were UK teachers to adopt digital learning methods?

Overall, teachers in the United Kingdom have shown an interest and willingness to adopt digital learning methods. In the TALIS survey, 76% of teachers "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that most teachers in the school were open to change and were willing to adapt and be innovate. Furthermore, 51% of head teachers in England (United Kingdom) "often" or "very often" took actions to support co-operation among teachers to develop new teaching practices in the 12 months prior to the survey.

What barriers were there to UK pupils accessing digital learning opportunities?

A pre-requisite for any type of online learning activity is that students have access to a computer at home and / or in school.  The delivery of ICT in school requires the availability of adequate resources. In the United Kingdom, 15% of principals reported that the shortage or inadequacy of digital technology for instruction hindered the school's capacity to provide quality instruction. Once the pandemic took hold and schools were closed, it was imperative that children had access to this technology at home. Those students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds who were unable to access these devices may well have been be severely affected by the pandemic and increasing learning inequalities as a result. Whilst many did have access to a computer prior to the pandemic (92% of students reported having a computer they could use for school work). Whilst this figure was higher than other countries in the survey, 8% of UK children did not have access to digital technology. Another barrier involved the access to a physical space to study - As many work places also closed down and adults were also forced to work from home, the ability for children to have a dedicated space to sit and learn may also have decreased.