On December 31, 2020 the four UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) published a statement announcing changes to the dosing schedule for the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech and University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. It stated that the interval between the first and second dose should be extended from 3–4 weeks to up to 12 weeks. This rapid response examines the evidence behind this decision.
- Over 1,100 experts have shared with us their concerns about COVID-19 and COVID-impacted areas in the immediate and longer term future.
- This report outlines education concerns.
- Experts are concerned about home learning. They worry about the added burden on parents, the quality of home education, and the feasibility of assessment. Access to different online tools, and varying levels of digital literacy may widen achievement gaps.
- Experts also want to know how the Government is contributing to making education accessible from home, and how it is providing support to those who need it.
- Experts are also concerned about how decisions to close and open schools/nurseries are being made. Social distancing can be challenging and stressful in these setting which could negatively impact teaching staff.
- Finally there are several concerns on universities. Experts worry that universities may struggle to provide high-quality education. There may also be a reduction in university staff, and a drop in research projects. There might also be a drop in admissions which would have a knock-on effect on universities’ main source of income.
- You can find all our horizon scanning work on COVID-19 here.
Our survey of over 1,100 experts asked them what their most important concerns were in the short (next 3 months), medium (next 3 to 9 months) and long-term (beyond the next 9 months) relating to the COVID-19 outbreak. Their responses were analysed and synthesised. This synthesis comes from survey responses submitted between 3 and 30 April. Experts raised 209 concerns relating to education. Below are the areas of concerns that experts have relating to this area.
Practicalities of home learning
Experts raise 70 concerns on the practicalities of an increase in home learning (caused by school and university closures) in the short, medium and long-term.
Experts raise over 30 concerns about how education can be delivered at a distance. They note that some schools and universities are offering online classes, but others are not. Experts express concern that parents may not feel confident or qualified to teach their children, guide them through online learning or monitor their progress. Some experts also suggest that children from less privileged backgrounds will receive far less parental support in their education. This is likely to widen achievement gaps in the short, medium and long-term. Experts also note that many organisations (such as museums, media organisations and educational technology companies) have provided content for free or at a reduced cost. Some question how the UK Government is contributing to accessible educational tools and materials available to all students.
Experts also express concern that some educational technology companies may try to use the current situation as leverage to negotiate unfair contracts or request policy changes. For example, companies may ask schools to sign-up for multi-year contracts rather than allowing for short-term contracts to cover the period of school closures. Experts want to know how the Government will ensure that educational technology companies maintain legal and ethical standards. Some experts also suggest that online tools and information should be made freely available to all students while educational establishments are closed. They suggest that copyright law may prevent educators from sharing resources with their students. They note that a lack of free resources could mean some students are disadvantaged if they cannot afford to buy the materials they need.
Experts raise concerns in the short and medium-term about the digital literacy of educators and students. They note that a lot of home learning uses online platforms. They suggest that educators may struggle to use the technology because they have not had adequate training. They are also concerned that using this technology without fully understanding it could mean there are greater cybersecurity and data protection risks. Experts also note that children from less privileged backgrounds may have lower digital literacy, meaning they may find it more difficult to engage with online education. Other concerns were also raised about unequal access to digital technology for students from less privileged backgrounds. This is known as the digital divide. For example, children who live in more deprived areas are less likely to have their own computer or tablet and are less likely to have access to high-speed internet. Without access to these technologies, they may struggle to engage in online learning. Some experts want to know what the Government is doing to reduce this digital divide in the short, medium and long-term. They note that this digital divide is likely to increase educational attainment gaps in the long-term.
Other long-term concerns include whether digital technology will play a greater role in education in the future. For example, some experts suggest that increased use of digital technology is needed for education to be resilient to any future interruptions (such as future waves of the COVID-19 outbreak or other unexpected events). Some suggest that this could improve access for people with special educational needs or disabilities or for those who cannot be present at school/university (such as children recovering from illness). Experts want to know what plans are in place to integrate technology into teaching in the long-term. Some experts suggest that there should be accompanying training to improve the digital literacy of educators and students.
There are nearly 20 concerns that focus on practicalities of assessment in the short and medium-term. Experts note that exam cancellations for GCSEs and A-levels mean greater reliance on predicted grades. They suggest that this could disadvantage some students. For example, predicted grades tend to be lower for children from black or minority ethnic backgrounds and for children from lower income families. Therefore, using predicted grades could compound educational attainment gaps. Some experts want to know how exam boards, universities and schools are preparing for a likely increase in people contesting their assigned grades in the medium-term. Other experts question how this year’s assigned grades will affect university admissions in the future. In the long-term, experts are also concerned that students who have not taken examinations this year will be disadvantaged for examinations in the future because they have not had the necessary experience.
Example of a typical short-term concern in this area: How will Government ensure that schools are advised and supported to use technology effectively, providing technology resources so that learners at pivotal points in their education pathway, specifically those in Y[ear] 10, Y[ear] 11, Y[ear] 12 and Y[ear] 13 will be adequately equipped for the continuation of their studies later in the year?
Experts raise nearly 60 concerns about disruption to education during the COVID-19 outbreak.
There are nearly 30 concerns about the effects of educational interruption through school/university closure. Experts are concerned that students using home learning will not have made the same progress as they would have made while at school/university. There are concerns that there could be long-lasting educational attainment issues for children and young people whose education has been disrupted. Experts are particularly concerned for children in primary school who may miss reaching vital stages in literacy and numeracy. They want to know how students will be supported to make up for the lost learning opportunities.
Nearly 20 concerns focus on the likely increase in educational inequality in the short, medium and long-term. They note that some disadvantaged groups have previously experienced an educational attainment gap, where they have fallen behind their peers in reaching key educational stages and/or have received lower grades. They note that multiple issues are likely to increase this educational attainment gap (including the digital divide, less involvement of parents in education, and home circumstances that make studying more difficult). Experts want to know how schools and the Government will intervene to prevent educational inequalities widening.
Experts also express concerns about the mental health effects of educational interruption in the short, medium and long-term. They note that educators and students are facing greater stress but have less access to peer support. Experts are concerned that some children and young people may be anxious about returning to schools or universities for fear of catching the virus. They also suggest that children and young people may struggle to readjust to being around peers, potentially leading to a rise in behavioural issues. Others note that children who have been isolated from peers may miss out on reaching key social and emotional development milestones. There are particular concerns about the mental health impact on school and university leavers who may have increased anxiety about moving on to secondary school, college, university or into employment. Experts want to know what mental health support schools, universities and the Government are going to put in place for children and young people in the long-term. They note that NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are unlikely to be able to cope with greater demand.
Example of a typical short-term concern in this area: My main concern over the next three months is whether universities have the systems in place, and are able to mobilise rapidly enough, to remotely support the mental health of current university staff and students so that the academic year can be successfully brought to a close.
Schools and nurseries
Experts raise over 20 concerns specifically focused on schools and nurseries. In particular, experts want to know what evidence is being used to decide when to close and open schools/nurseries. They are concerned that many schools/nurseries are not set up to allow social distancing if this is required in the medium and long-term. Other concerns include that if social distancing or other measures are enforced for nurseries when they reopen, it may mean they are not financially viable. For example, if there are limits on the number of children allowed in a nursery then this will reduce the income of nurseries. This could result in nurseries closing down, creating a shortage of nurseries in the long-term.
There are also concerns around the teaching workforce. Some experts note that retention rates for teaching staff have been falling in recent years, meaning many schools are already understaffed. They suggest that there could be an increase in teaching staff leaving the profession in the medium and long-term because of the stress of teaching during the COVID-19 outbreak. Some experts also suggest that people undertaking their teacher training this year will have had their progress interrupted, potentially meaning fewer newly-qualified teachers will be available. Experts want to know how the Government will help retain and train teachers to ensure there is not a long-term shortage of teaching staff.
Example of a typical long-term concern in this area: How to minimise the impact of the outbreak on the education and training of students and trainee teachers whose learning and professional development has been disrupted during the academic year 2019-2020.
Experts raise nearly 60 concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on UK universities in the short, medium and long-term.
Over 30 concerns focus on how education in universities may be affected during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. Some experts suggest that there is the opportunity for universities to engage in greater use of digital technologies. However, many experts are concerned that universities will struggle to provide high-quality education in the long-term. Some experts suggest that the number of teaching staff at universities could drop over the medium and long-term. They note that university staff on short-term contracts may not be re-employed for financial reasons and that non-UK staff may struggle to meet visa requirements to stay teaching in UK universities. Other experts also note that graduate students whose studies have been interrupted may require longer to carry out research. They are concerned that there is not adequate financial support to allow them to do so, meaning some will face financial difficulty and/or be forced to quit their studies.
There are over 20 concerns around the financial viability of UK universities. Experts suggest that admissions numbers will likely decrease in the medium and long-term as students either decide to defer until after the COVID-19 outbreak or reassess their decision to attend university. This is likely to cause many universities to be in financial difficulty. Experts note that there could be a large decline in international students attending UK universities because of global reluctance to travel, potential travel restrictions and any future visa/immigration requirements. They suggest that universities with higher numbers of international students will, therefore, be affected most financially. Experts want to know how the Government will help build the reputation of UK universities to encourage international students to attend. They also want to know what support will be in place for universities in financial difficulties. Some experts suggest that the current university system in the UK is unsustainable and that there is an opportunity to restructure it to make it more resilient in the future.
Example of a typical medium-term concern in this area: How we ensure the education system returns to normal, that the university system survives potential income loss from less overseas students and that students at school and university are ready to continue studying.
You can find rapid response content from POST on COVID-19 here.
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