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Back to (a new kind of) school

Back to (a new kind of) school

27 August 2020

Many of us across the world are currently preparing for the ‘back to school’ season. Students will be getting excited about seeing their friends and teachers. They may be buying new stationery, new backpacks, or uniforms. Meanwhile many parents will, I’m sure, be looking forward to more normality.

We know that things can’t return to how they were pre-pandemic; it’s going to take time to adjust. Teachers will have to contend with new issues borne out of lockdown: addressing the attainment gap for those who had limited internet access; motivating students who are adapting to new routines and different learning environments; and of course, keeping staff and students safe. Rather than trying to recreate how things used to be, let’s take this opportunity to learn from the past few months and shape the future of education.

One of the biggest shifts during the pandemic is the acceleration of online learning throughout the education sector. Having moved relatively slowly compared to other industries, schools suddenly needed to increase access to digital resources for students learning remotely. Our teams had to adapt fast to match and anticipate our customers’ changing needs, and we’ve since seen impressive usage of our online resources. Some 3,100 schools worldwide have benefited from Kerboodle, and more than 2,100 have used our MyMaths and MyiMaths platforms. Meanwhile thousands of teachers across the world have made the most of our online professional development courses.

Education institutions now have a unique opportunity to consider how a blended learning approach could improve educational outcomes in the classroom, and support learning at home. Of course, it won’t happen overnight, and is particularly challenging in parts of the world where fixed internet access is less pervasive—but it could have a significant, long-lasting impact.

Another topic that has been much talked about over the past few months is well-being—something I mentioned in one of my previous updates. It was already high on people’s agendas but due to lockdown and anxieties around the long-term effects of the virus, the spotlight has continued to shine on this important issue. This focus isn’t going to vanish once schools re-open—and nor should it. In fact, it’s more important than ever that we prioritize it, as returning to the classroom will naturally raise feelings of unease and uncertainty.

We want to work with institutions across the world to support both student and teacher well-being, particularly during this time. Our new Oxford International Curriculum, for example, places joy at the heart of the curriculum and aims to foster well-being and life skills to support students’ future success. We also continue to offer specialist, ongoing support for teachers. Our webinars from Mike Armiger provide guidance on supporting students during this period of transition, while our four-week professional development programme, ELT Together, includes modules on teacher well-being.

But if I have taken anything from the past few months, it’s the power of global collaboration and learning in the face of significant challenges. None of us are experts in preparing to go back to school during a pandemic, and we are all doing our best to support education while adhering to local government guidelines. However, we are all part of an international community that shares a similar aim—supporting education, worldwide, and furthering children’s life chances.

I continue to be amazed at how people from across OUP come together, and share their expertise, to support our communities across the world. We are all here to work with you, to draw on our global insight, to take on the lessons of teaching during a global pandemic, and to improve education in the long-term.

Going back to school should be a time of excitement and hope. I wish everyone who has already returned, or who is about to embark on their education once more, the very best for the next few months, and whatever the new year may hold.


Nigel Portwood, CEO