RIP snow days: Education Continuity Plans now vital

Lessons from coronavirus should ensure no school is unprepared for remote learning – which could spell the end of snow days forever
28th May 2020, 1:02pm


RIP snow days: Education Continuity Plans now vital

Every organisation has a business continuity plan that outlines how it will operate in the event of a disaster.

For schools, these typically include defining what the leadership team would have to put in place to allow lessons to continue in the event of a fire, flood or some other natural disaster.

Business continuity plans are an opportunity to do the initial thinking and leg work - such as identifying short-notice suppliers - before the stress of a crisis arrives.

Detailed planning, such as this allows a full estimate of costs to be fed into the school's annual insurance requirements and provides peace of mind that these costs would be covered in the event of a disaster.

An education continuity plan

What the Covid-19 lockdowns around the world have shown is that, from now on, every school will need an education continuity plan that outlines how the school is going to function in the event of school closures.

School closures aren't just about pandemics: they are an annual occurrence in many parts of the world, be it snow days in the UK, rain days in UAE or days off during the typhoon season in South East Asia.

As we have seen in recent weeks, an educational continuity plan is likely to rely heavily on switching seamlessly to online learning and live lessons. We all know that this is easier said than done.

For schools to provide effective home learning, they need not only to have developed online platforms and functionality; but also invested in training of teachers to enable them to deliver lessons and support the children in their care.

In hindsight, at Kellett, we were much better prepared for Covid-19 because schools in Hong Kong had been closed for seven days in the preceding November.

That closure highlighted that we needed to develop the necessary protocols and permissions to be able to offer as-live teaching and to upskill our staff and students so that everyone in our community could move seamlessly to home learning should the need arise again.

Little did we know then that we would soon be heading into more than three months of school closure within a matter of weeks. Thank goodness we had acted on our lessons learned.

The ultimate home-school partnership

Headteachers often speak of the need for there to be a partnership between the school and home. Never has this been truer than in recent weeks.

The experience of the Covid-19 closures around the world has shown that both the school and the home need to be technically proficient in order for home learning programmes to be effective.

A school might have the best IT equipment and systems but this is worthless without having support from home.

This support may take many forms, including providing access to IT equipment and internet access, helping children log on to the school learning platform or simply providing encouragement to young people to do their schoolwork.

The digital divide

Covid-19 school closures have highlighted an enormous digital divide between those schools where pupils have their own device and there are long-established online teaching and learning platforms and those where constraints (whether in attitude or financial situation) mean this is not possible.

The resulting disparity in the quality of home learning provided is only set to create a greater distance between the haves and the have nots.

One of the post-pandemic challenges facing governments around the world is to address this disparity.

That is going to involve investment both in school IT equipment and online systems and into regular training for teachers, students and parents.

Avoiding skill fade

One of the great benefits of the Covid-19 school closures is that has forced all concerned to upskill and embrace new technologies in a way that hasn't been necessary in the past.

These lessons must not be lost.

I wonder if schools should build a home-learning day into their annual schedule, so that, as with fire drills, we don't forget what to do when we next have to move education online.

I hope that it's not summoning up the spirit of Scrooge to suggest that snow days/typhoon days/rain days will soon no longer mean the expected day off for all concerned.

Mark Steed is the principal and CEO of Kellett School, the British School in Hong Kong; and previously ran schools in Devon, Hertfordshire and Dubai

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