A transformative year for education
2020 has been a transformative year for education. The pandemic has shone a light on, and exacerbated, deep societal and educational inequalities. It has made the work we do at Big Change more important than ever, so it was wonderful to reflect, and look at the positive change we can create, through a two-part event series with some of the Big Change community.
The panel and resulting discussions really highlighted the need to reflect on this period of global disruption and build out a #NewEducationStory. Over the past four months we’ve brought together some brilliant thinkers to discuss the future of education, sharing insights from 20 authors, reaching more than 2 million readers and driving 114,000 engagements - and counting. To wrap up the series for this year, I wanted to share some reflections from some of our brilliant projects.
The first session was led by Big Change’s project partners at Big Education and ImpactEd to look at the impact of lockdown upon students, teachers and parents. We also heard from young people and teachers affected by the crisis, and it was moving to hear the many positives coming from this period of disruption while exploring how to use our learnings to change the current system. We also spoke a lot about wellbeing. As Liz, co-founder of Big Education, put it: “There is more of a need than ever to know what is going on in (the) lives of young people.” To do this, Liz mentioned the need for everyone in education to put children at the heart of everything they do. As Liz explained:
“Value-based leadership is how you create steadiness in uncertainty.”
The second session looked at inclusion, and the ways in which the pandemic has fuelled inequality. It’s important to see how children experience the pandemic in different ways to make sure no child is left behind. During the sessions, we debated the challenges of pursuing equity in education and our project partners at The Difference, Lighthouse and Rekindle shared the brilliant work they are doing to overcome these challenges in 2021.
The Difference, for example, offers senior leadership courses aimed at inclusive leadership and improving outcomes for vulnerable learners to change the story on school exclusion. Lighthouse is an incredible project that creates children’s homes with a holistic approach to education for some of the UK’s most vulnerable young people. An equally amazing example is Rekindle - a supplementary school in Manchester with a curriculum focused on support, mentoring, business engagement, topical masterclasses and career development opportunities.
As the panel discussed, COVID-19 has surfaced the need for schools and teachers to be better equipped to support vulnerable children. We can’t offer a truly inclusive education system without providing disadvantaged students with better access to mental health support, social workers, technology devices and school meals.
Another important factor in building an inclusive education system is representation. A new report from the University College of London (UCL) found that almost half of all schools in England have no Black or minority ethnic teachers. The report also found that, even in diverse schools, leadership teams are almost always white.
It was moving to hear from Craig, a leader from The Difference and assistant headteacher at Southwark Inclusive Learning Services in London, on how this level of underrepresentation inspired him to become a teacher:
“When I was a child, I didn’t have the experience of seeing a teacher who looked like me. I wanted to have that visibility in the classroom. We still need to see better representation across the country.”
It was so insightful to look back on this immense year of transformation, and to hear from the people who have been on the directly impacted by the changes. As we look ahead to 2021, the people who joined these events and the plans we have at Big Change makes me excited for the future. Now is the time to give young people the agency and opportunity to lead, focus on vulnerable students, better support teachers and re-think assessment to make sure no-one is left behind.