UK schools ill prepared for online

Tuesday, 07 July, 2020

UK schools ill prepared for online

The UK's Durham University has released the second in a series of reports that look at teachers' responses to the COVID-19 lockdown. The newly released (and not-to-be peer reviewed) report considers teachers' workload, wellbeing and their use of education technology.

Of the 3404 survey responses received, 66% of teachers reported having little or no previous experience in online teaching and only one-third said they felt confident in delivering lessons online. 54% of respondents described the process as stressful and only 44% said they felt adequately provided for online teaching. Primary teachers were the least likely to have previous online lesson delivery experience and were the least confident.

Communication and technology concerns

While virtual meeting platforms including Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Sky were all available for use, most teachers (58%) utilised email as the main communication method with students, while primary teachers favoured direct communication with parents (rather than students).

When asked to identify key concerns regarding the use of technology, survey respondents nominated a lack of student IT resources, improper technology infrastructure for teachers and safeguarding concerns as the three most pressing issues.

The report's authors say that a lack of adequate resources underpinned a subsequent lack of confidence with online teaching and the use of edtech, citing one survey participant's response to illustrate the issues:

"Work was always very hard and time consuming with long hours but remote teaching has been a real struggle with brand new set of skills needed involving ICT usage without proper guidance, e.g. Zoom, Google Drive, Microsoft meeting etc etc. Students also emailing work directly via email and feedback response required same day. This is on top of regular day to day emails such as staff updates on strategies and professional development courses via email weekly. We also have subject based tasks set too." 

According to the report, the perfect storm of zero preparation and low levels of confidence meant online teaching was unlikely to be widespread in the event of a pandemic and that immediate future investment in teacher training, CPD and digital infrastructure is necessary.

Digital divide

As with other parts of the world, the gap between the haves and have nots was clearly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, as some children struggled without the technology required to facilitate continued learning. Where students had no access to technology, teachers reported hand delivering schoolwork to students' homes.

A centralised package to support some children through provision of laptops, tablets and internet access has been announced by the government, but it will prioritise only children in care, children with a social worker and disadvantaged children in year 10, according to the report. The report's authors are also at pains to declare that there is no evidence to suggest that online learning is an effective education model and that rigorous assessment of available tools and resources will need to occur before any approaches could be recommended.

This UK experience differs from the Australian, which more commonly featured a period of adjustment (of varying degrees) followed by a relatively steady transition to the new learning mode, digital divide notwithstanding. Another key difference is that the digital divide crosses boundaries, with many UK teachers themselves lacking access to the necessary technological infrastructure and digital devices needed to work from home, further exacerbating the issue.

Image credit: © CRACHO

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