As the announcement of a first and then a second effective Covid vaccine rang out, like the church bells ringing after victory in a great battle, so did the promise of a return to normality by the end of next spring.
But, with an end to restrictions, what changes in the education sector will remain? Will the way schools work be changed for ever?
Coronavirus: changes that could be here to stay
1. No more face-to-face parents’ evenings
Rachael Wardell, director of children’s services in Surrey, said: “Virtual parents’ evening is a revelation: online booking and automated time-slots, so between different teachers I can get on with something else, not just wait around, and none of the conversations overrun. Let’s do this, even without Covid.”
When I asked Chris Foley, the headteacher of a Catholic high school, whether he intended to carry on with virtual parents’ evenings, he said: “Likely yes. It felt more efficient. And, if we iron out any glitches, it’s better for staff. It’s much tighter – nothing overruns.”
The overwhelming mood seems to suggest that online parents’ evenings are here to stay.
2. No more snow days
Teachers and students have proven that learning can be delivered online. While I don’t think it will ever replace face-to-face teaching, the logistical challenge of switching from offline to online is a barrier that has been broken.
Many teachers have taught online for the first time, using tech they wouldn’t have dreamed of using before, and anxieties around online delivery have been overcome. So, sadly, I think the snow day may have been consigned to the annals of teacher history.
3. Online CPD
The first lockdown brought with it an extraordinary burst of online activity in the CPD market. Everywhere you look, there are examples of online CPD springing up, which people simply wouldn’t have thought of engaging with before the pandemic.
Delivering it is easy, with the effectiveness of platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams undisputed. The CPD market has also further democratised delivery and access, giving classroom teachers new opportunities to present to large audiences.
4. Hand sanitiser…
Many teachers report not having a cold since before the Covid lockdowns. The swell of germs during the average school day has been highlighted and brought to the fore.
I think we can expect a continued focus on making schools healthier places for all. Perhaps hand sanitiser stations could be here to stay.
5. … and handwashing routines
This is certainly something I can see myself concentrating more on in future: a thorough 20-second clean with soap or hand sanitiser, rather than a rushed wash and dash out.
Will it be the same for young people? I see no reason why not. I’m sure schools will continue to promote handwashing for years to come. Perhaps some of the “how to wash your hands” posters will even stay up.
6. Students will appreciate face-to-face lessons more
Many students found online learning difficult, or simply didn’t engage at all. They missed the face-to-face interactions and began to realise how important they were.
“I feel like pupils are much more engaged than pre-pandemic,” maths teacher Hannah Radders told me. “They’ve said how much they struggled to self-teach in lockdown, and how supportive their teachers are.”
7. One-way systems
The introduction of one-way walking systems in school corridors seems to have reduced incidences of disruption. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this system implemented on a more permanent basis, as restrictions ease.
8. More respect for teachers in school
Maths teacher Vicky Osborne said on Twitter: “I’ve noticed that everyone is very quick to respect our time more, cancelling meetings that aren’t needed, stopping unnecessary observations, constantly mentioning how hard everyone is working, loads of praise and thanks. I know it might just be my school – but I hope not.”
9. Teaching zones
While asking teachers to move from classroom to classroom has created obvious issues, having students separated into different year-group zones has helped some schools to manage behaviour more effectively.
It will be interesting to see whether schools continue to keep some year groups in their own learning areas.
10. More teachers will want to live life to the full
When this is over, I want to travel even more than I did before Covid. I want to go out and socialise more. I want to gain the time back that I’ve lost.
I think more teachers will consider saying “yes” to that invitation for after-work drinks on a Friday. Seizing the day might come back into fashion.