Teachers more worried about students’ social isolation than academic progress

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By Jordan Baker

Most teachers believe students will need extra learning support when they go back to school, but they are more worried about children’s social isolation than their academic progress.

Almost half of more than 3500 teachers in a trans-Tasman survey lacked confidence in their ability to meet students’ learning needs online, but they were divided over whether remote teaching was as effective as the face-to-face kind.

Pivot Professional Learning, which helps schools improve teacher effectiveness, surveyed the teachers across Australia and New Zealand in early April, when 95 per cent of them had either moved to remote learning, or were preparing to as schools sent students home due to COVID-19.

Four in five believed students would need extra support when they returned to on-campus learning, the survey – which covered 1 per cent of the Australian teaching workforce, and more than 2 per cent of teachers in New Zealand – found.

But when asked their top three concerns during the pandemic, students’ social isolation was their main worry (56 per cent), followed by a decrease in students’ wellbeing (54 per cent) and the potential loss of learning (46 per cent).

Other concerns were lack of access to technology and lack of support from parents.

Teachers were particularly concerned about disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, and young kids. “The difficulty of engaging younger children online was a recurring theme,” the report said. “Younger students should be considered a high-needs population in terms of interventions.”

Workload had also increased, particularly in Australia, where more than three-quarters of teachers said they were spending more time preparing. Teachers in Australia were more concerned about meeting parent expectations than those in New Zealand.

Pivot chief executive Amanda Bickerstaff said the results showed teachers were worried about their connections with students, and pupils’ connections with each other.

“This proves that learning is not just about outcomes, it’s the social and emotional health and relationships that students experience at school,” she said. “There is a recognition that this has been deeply disrupted.

“They worked so hard in term one to build their relationships. [Students] went from having up to six, seven hours a day with their teacher, building and creating and collaborating, and that’s been completely stopped.”

Teachers also reported wildly varying confidence in using different types of technology. Schools were using between two and five different types, which came with “different passwords, different needs, and different training,” said Ms Bickerstaff.

The report recommended schools make social and emotional wellbeing a key focus of remote learning, and suggested learning support for disadvantaged, disabled and younger students be prioritised as students return to the classroom.

Phil Seymour, the president of the Primary Principals Association, agreed that early primary school students had been the most difficult to engage online. “You can only do so much with them – a bit of literacy, numeracy and some sort of creative or activity work,” he said.

“In kinder and year one, you need the explicit teaching and the solid foundation to build on. That’s the first thing we’ll be doing [when students get back into the classroom] – looking at how they’ve gone, where they’re up to and where they have to go.”

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