A New Normal

Niamh DonaldWhen will we get back to normal?  A question asked as we face the global pandemic and its unfolding nightmares.  Across our public sector and other key services, the value of essential workers has been celebrated by weekly clapping and for some a true understanding of their worth.

In education the essential elements have been highlighted in the response of governments across the globe.  UNESCO considered the need for facts and emphasised “what is really important at the time of an existential crisis, are qualities of our human connections. Things like solidarity, empathy, and kindness.”

The OECD collated actions from 330 responses across 98 education jurisdictions among its members. They added the views of unexpected positive educational results from the responses.  The top five positives were

  • Introduction of technologies and other innovative solutions
  • Increased autonomy of students to manage their own learning
  • Strengthened involvement and cooperation of parents
  • Improvement in multi-sectorial coordination (Education-health etc)
  • Increased pedagogical autonomy of teachers

For the SEAS these unexpected positives may well be clues to a new normal.  As we have seen schools become centres for ensuring the wellbeing of children of essential workers and then finding new ways to promote learning at home.

In the journal of the British Educational Researcher Association researchers have proposed that five educational myths shattered by the virus. These elements of the old normal include

  • Teacher and leader efficacy can provide the solutions to children’s academic failure
  • School leaders matter more than teachers and support staff
  • Schools and those who work in them must be continuously surveilled
  • Transferring power from the local authority towards autonomous “leaders” makes a positive difference to children’s learning
  • Education ought to be understood structured and delivered around the interests of the individual

So, what might a new normal look like in Scotland. It would seem to mean significant changes to Scottish Government approaches.  Moves towards local solutions are a key feature of responses within education to COVID-19.  Scottish Government and Education Scotland did not go to Regional Improvement Collaboratives (RIC) to deliver what was necessary in times of crisis.  Of course, neither did they convene their panel of international advisers.

“Education Scotland has changed how it is working to provide tailored support to local authorities, schools, children and young people in response to the closure of schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. This collective approach, drawing on the wide-ranging skills and expertise available in the agency, allows Education Scotland to provide national advice and support. This will have greatest effect when done in close partnership with schools and local authorities.”

Support for a local response is best.  Something that is being taken forward with a much more grounded approach through the potential of Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland.   The new normal needs to see concerted action across council services at community level with a focus on the achievement of children.  Such approaches need to have a focus on promoting social justice rather than the faltering one-dimensional attainment gap approach.

The SEAS sees the need for this model of local collective action rather than the siloed RICs.  All of those agencies working for children and young people in collaboration can deliver more than the sum of their parts.  Schools have their place as shared social spaces for children and their friends beyond what online learning offers.

The nature of learning may well move away from schools being exam factories and teachers working to push young people through the high-stakes hurdle of external examinations. In our view the advice from the SQA for assessment, moderation and quality assurance is a starting point for the teachers and students to engage in dialogue and feedback about assessment of their work.  Implicit in this approach is a high degree of trust in the teaching profession to deliver fair, reliable assessments of the young people they work with.  In our view the relationship between teacher and learner may continue to change towards a partnership of equals in achieving effective teaching learning rather than continuing to exacerbate the mental well-being of both through the pressurised timetable of high-stakes external examinations.

And what about the classroom, the lecture hall, the school or schooling? Online learning will be a common mode across Higher, Further and school education over the next months/terms/years. What will a new normal look like then? Might it be a Senior Phase with fewer lessons in the school building? A greater sense of teacher responsibility for resources with a similar level of student responsibility for their learning and its assessment?

The upcoming review of Curriculum for Excellence will have the opportunity to consider necessary improvements to the curriculum.  Is it a chance to rename it – A Curriculum for the New Normal?


BERA five education myths that COVID-19 shatters https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/five-education-myths-that-covid-19-shatters

Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland https://childrensneighbourhoods.scot

OECD A frame work to guide an education response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020   https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/view/?ref=126_126988-t63lxosohs&title=A-framework-to-guide-an-education-response-to-the-Covid-19-Pandemic-of-2020

Scottish Government Coronavirus (COVID-19): supporting pupils, parents and teachers – learning during term 4


SQA National Courses – Delivering Results in 2020


UNESCO https://en.unesco.org/news/interview-azra-aksamija-what-matters-most-time-crisis-are-qualities-our-human-connections




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