Penny-pinching and piecemeal: This is no way to plan a long-term recovery

Written by: Deborah Lawson | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The Department for Education’s penny-pinching, piecemeal announcements and politicians’ quick-fix solutions will put long-term education recovery at risk, says Deborah Lawson

Today’s education system is “an outdated Victorian-based education system” characterised by “obsession with exams, obsession with academic excellence and defunding of SEN support, defunding of the arts and dehumanisation of the children”.

This was the opinion of one of the many Voice Community teacher, headteacher and support staff members from across the UK who took part in our recent survey on the future of education.

Here is another: “The fact that the majority of children have been at home for so long means that it is not just educational or academic catch-up that is needed, it is also reconditioning them into the stable routine of the class environment and disciplined focus that they will find hard both in terms of behaviour and mental health.

“These two aspects will contribute to what the future holds for school staff, as well as impact on learning levels.”

Respondents were from a range of settings, but from their responses came the clear consensus that we cannot return to how things were. We need to move forward differently.

They were also clear that education must focus on long-term recovery and students’ mental health, not short-term “catch-up”.

Experiences during the pandemic

Sharing their experiences, members told us that:

  • (Unsurprisingly) online learning had not been as effective as in-person-learning.
  • Staff in the sector have worked incredibly hard under challenging circumstances.
  • The gap between the most and least advantaged students has widened.
  • Students’ social skills as well as their academic abilities have been dramatically affected.
  • Many staff have not been supported to manage online learning.

Recovery and retention

In terms of recovery, the challenge of recovery will be broader than academic “catch-up”, with the mental health of students being members’ overwhelming concern.

There was also a clear message that the burdens of administration and standardised achievements are hampering the ability of staff to focus on supporting and educating children.

As a result of the pandemic, as well as long-term trends, there is also a retention crisis facing the sector – 22 per cent of Voice Community members who responded plan to leave education within the next three years, primarily because of the pressures of the role and workload.

Recommendations for recovery and retention

Members’ key recommendations were:

  • Mental health support needs to be provided for students and staff.
  • More support staff, effectively used, are needed in the classroom.
  • There must be an increase in funding targeted towards disadvantaged learners.
  • The Pupil Premium and special needs funding should be increased and made more reactive.
  • The creative subjects should be valued.
  • In-person learning should be supported with digital technology.
  • Greater engagement with parents/carers and the local community needs to be encouraged to embed and enrich learning.
  • Any additional or extended hours must not come at the expense of teachers’ workloads and must be either paid or avoided.

To support staff to stay in education, respondents recommended:

  • Increased planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time for all school staff and added flexibility, including the ability to take it at home.
  • Valuing support staff through pay, conditions and career development.
  • Regular personal development time for staff and a personal training allowance.
  • Increased numbers of health and safety reps with added rights and protections.
  • Protection for staff raising health and safety concerns across the sector.
  • A reduction in workload, especially in relation to data demands.


The aftermath of the pandemic represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change education – what we learn, how we learn it and how we assess it – and ensure it meets the needs of children, parents and the economy. This opportunity must be about long-term recovery and progress – not short-term “catch-up”.

Sadly, the Westminster government is in danger of losing that generational chance, with its penny-pinching, piecemeal announcements, rather than the detailed, comprehensive, ambitious – and necessarily expensive – education recovery plan that is needed.

The Treasury appears oblivious to the need to invest in education as an agent of economic recovery.

There is no quick-fix solution for politicians to make headlines with, tick some boxes and pretend it is “job done”.

Attempting to return to the old ways of a system that needs to be reformed will not work. No longer should learners be forced to meet the needs of the system – the system must now meet the needs of our learners…


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