There may be trouble ahead... Challenges for schools in 2022

Written by: Ben Evans | Published:
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What lies in store for us in 2022? Headteacher Ben Evans considers some of the challenges that await and what his priorities are for the coming year

For the education sector, 2021 was a year like no other. School leaders planned for closures, re-introduced online learning, planned for re-opening, and managed many interruptions along the way.

Blended learning has become a way of life in schools and, most importantly, teachers have learnt to become more flexible in their approach – in coverage of the curriculum and in assessment.

The challenges of 2021 have of course been aplenty, and well-documented, but schools have coped extraordinarily well. Right to the very end of the year, leadership teams and teachers have been battling with government guidance, an increase in Covid cases, anxious and disgruntled parents, and increased workload due to blended learning and other exigencies.

Regenerating purposeful communities

Despite the success of online learning for some schools during the period of closures, undoubtedly nothing substitutes being in school to learn. The real problems with remote learning stemmed from a lack of socialisation and being part of a school community.

Many children felt isolated and detached from school life and missed the sport, art, music, and co-curricular activities that enrich their days. This has been the biggest challenge for heads – to build kind, respectful and purposeful communities again and regain the excellence in sport, performing and creative arts. There is now a renewed thirst for children to be involved, learn new skills, and grow in confidence and independence.

Staff retention

Throughout this year we have learnt that many teaching staff are resilient, exceptionally hard working and adaptable. Furthermore, they want to provide the best possible education for the children they teach, no matter how that may impact on their own wellbeing.

It is now the job of school leaders to ensure that staff workload is manageable and that they are not placed under significant or unreasonable pressure. For some, it has simply been too much, and they have reassessed their priorities and decided to leave the profession. Most recently, it has been school leaders who are leaving or planning to leave the profession in significant numbers, and this is a very worrying situation.

Many teachers are extremely loyal to their schools, colleagues, and pupils. Staff retention is key to ensuring that schools retain a balanced, experienced and committed common room. Staff need to feel valued and to enjoy their roles to the full. This requires school leaders and governors to look at all areas of school life, teacher workload, pupil behaviour management, appraisal systems etc.

Hopes and fears for 2022

We are all hoping a for a normal school year in 2022. A year in which changes and improvements can be embedded and built upon as well as a year to fill any gaps and provide much needed consistency. Schools will need to continue to look at assessment and tracking of progress to ensure it is manageable for staff and purposeful for pupils.

In terms of teaching skills and specialist training, as we head into 2022, although by no means new, more teachers will need to become mental health first aid trained, and we will see a general proficiency forming in this area among teaching and non-teaching staff. It will, I hope, become a must-have qualification in the role and become part of annual safeguarding training across all schools.

Mental health front and centre

It would need a crystal ball to predict how schools can best prepare for 2022. Who could ever have predicted what we have been through, implemented and achieved since January 2020?

One thing that is always a constant is the need to ensure children are at the front and centre of all we do. If schools continue to prioritise pastoral care, mental health and wellbeing and individualised programmes of study and assessment, then they will not go far wrong.

Add to this an innovative approach in always questioning what we do, looking to improve in all areas and never resting on our laurels. If we follow this path, 2022 will be a successful year in which children thrive, teachers continue to enjoy their roles, and parents support our efforts by working in true partnership.

  • Ben Evans is head at Windlesham House School in West Sussex, an independent day and boarding prep school for students aged four to 13.

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