Locked down and locked out: The COVID-19 generation, avoiding a legacy of inequality

Comment by SIMON EMMETT, CEO, IDP Connect

In light of all that has happened in 2020, students are naturally reassessing their options. We’re seeing that concerns around the current economic climate as a result of the pandemic and the quality and availability of teaching remotely are influencing what students decide to study just as much as where.

With a focus on both job security and quality of teaching/access to resources, it’s perhaps no surprise that degrees in the arts are less in demand for 2021. The creative industries have taken a massive hit this year, and the Office of National Statistics report shows it to be the worst sector hit by the furlough scheme. As such, it is no surprise to see that inevitably young people and their parents are concerned about pursuing their dreams on that path, and are instead opting for degrees either in more stable fields or with more transferable skills.

As our NHS struggles to tackle the current pandemic I believe it is important for the Government, schools and Universities to encourage all students to still pursue these areas of study and find ways to get them proper lab time in a safe and secure way. At this time more than ever it’s important for us to realise how crucial the applied and pure sciences are, as after all the solution to this virus started in a lab and who knows what solutions we’ll need in the future. We must invest in the UK’s next generation of scientific minds.

Regardless of the subjects they’re choosing to pursue, it was saddening to see that students across the board are struggling with increased anxiety to perform amidst a disrupted teaching and exam schedule. Although it’s clear the Government and education institutions are trying to support students in every way possible, more must be done. We would hope that more resources are in place for the New Year as this pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, and young people’s education cannot afford to be paused or disrupted any further as a result.

We have been fortunate as a country this year to have many financial schemes introduced to help us stay afloat during these turbulent times however from our research its evident that social inequality is still playing a massive factor on whether students follow their university ambitions or not. It’s sad to hear that still in 2021 financial and socio-economic background still is the primary factor limiting students to further their education. Our research showed a higher proportion of students from lower socio-economic groups struggled to engage with online schooling and careers advice this year and are therefore more likely to question whether University is good value for money. Some can argue that the independent learning pushed onto students this year is good preparation for further education, however it is apparent that the lack of support from schools and sometimes at home is in fact having the opposite effect.

Moving into 2021 I believe all schools and Universities should have resilient and reliable support schemes in place in order to guide, inform and aid any students when they need it most. From that, we can start to put the worst of COVID-19 behind us and both reverse the downward trend of key subject uptake and bolster students’ mental health in the process. locked-down-and-locked-out-the-covid-19-generation-avoiding-a-legacy- of-inequality/

January 2021

The changing face of school libraries and their role in education

Comment by RICHARD GERVER, president of the School Library Association

In 2001 I was brought in as the new headteacher to address the significant problems at failing school, Grange Primary, in Long Eaton. Two years later, the school was recognised as one of the most acclaimed learning environments in the world. So what did I do in that short time at Grange Primary School to ignite this incredible transformation? One of the first things I did when joining Grange Primary was to build

a state-of-the-art, purpose-built library with staff receiving full school library CPD training; the result proved my belief in the transformative power of libraries. Great libraries make an impact and yet sadly so many schools fail to recognise their potential. There are an increasing number of reasons why we need them now

more than ever. These include the importance of developing a child’s love of reading, the increasing age of the digital divide (especially during the pandemic), the growth of ‘fake news’ and the need for children to learn how to safely source information and differentiate fact from fiction. Developing a love of reading All teachers value the importance of nurturing children’s love of reading, but even this depends on the school librarian’s skills. By finding out their reading level and what they’re interested in, schools can make the most of their skills and potential. Today, many children - particularly boys - are more motivated to read

eBooks and so there is no reason that schools can’t provide a range of these to access on a number of mobile devices. The digital divide – levelling up agenda As we focus on the ‘levelling up agenda’ school libraries have to be at the heart of the debate around education. The impact of Covid-19 has widened the gap in educational outcomes, particularly between the less and more privileged students in terms of access to remote learning and online resources. However, libraries, whether in a school or high street are the great leveller in ensuring that everyone has free access to reading and learning content regardless of whether they have a computer and internet access at home. Fake news - accessing trusted learning content The volume of information on the Internet is growing exponentially along with its active misinformation. When children get to an age where they are able to start scrutinising information themselves, school librarians must take responsibility to teach them to look critically at information and learn to differentiate fact from opinion and fiction; a skill they will need throughout their future lives and careers. There are many tools to help librarians deliver this training. When I arrived at Grange Primary School, I started by ensuring that its

school library staff received full updated CPD training so that it became an incredibly effective central hub of the school. The School Library Association has 23 branches across the UK and Ireland providing day or weekend online (or face to face post pandemic) support training courses. Each provides schools with an update on the evolving role of the school librarian. As the new president of the SLA, I welcome working with all schools

to get libraries back into their rightful place in the centre of the school infrastructure to drive educational change.

I look forward to working with you! 25

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