In this second post referencing our notes from the Horasis discussion panel on March 4, we continue to examine the lessons we can learn from the health services’ response to the pandemic.

The rapid spread of Covid 19 forced our health services to adapt swiftly and often. This readiness to react according to the rapidly evolving situation on the ground provides valuable lessons we can apply to our provision of education.

Not waiting for the research findings to provide the solution

Often the solution to a problem came from those working on the ground making assumptions from previous practice or using models. They acted first on the best evidence available and their own professional judgement.  They then waited for the research to validate their actions. Not the other way around.

In education recently there has been a drive to make the profession more dependent on evidence to guide its actions. We totally support this; however, a balance needs to be found between decisions made from relevant research with those that occur in a less formal way in best practice and emerging effective innovation. Relying on research alone will level up performance but seldom grow the top of our knowledge. We still need those who effectively change the mould as well as those who refine it.

Seeking a high degree of public scrutiny from the profession

In addition to the comments, we have made above about the role of relevant research in determining actions, it was interesting to note that this was not the only method used to validate procedures and vaccines; they placed the same importance upon peer review. As the research we have referenced here has shown, to use peer review in this way is not common practice in education, although Challenge Partners have pioneered work in this area. We consider that the views of statisticians with their spreadsheets are invaluable but so is the collective wisdom of those in the profession who have spent a lifetime understanding how it works.

Having the resources to seek solutions

As soon as the impact of the virus was known, a number of universities, companies and individuals worldwide (notably Dolly Parton), were able to find the resources to fund the search for solutions. In our state-run education systems, with their budget restriction and competing demands on the public purse, investing in innovation is often a low priority and accessing it can require you to tread through treacle.

Seeking ways of dealing with resistance of a significant number of people to accept the evidence and take the appropriate actions

It soon emerged that certain groups were more negatively affected by the virus than others, yet they were less willing to engage in the vaccine programme. The health service and governments tackled this issue head on. To deal with this the information on the spread and impact of the virus on specific groups was constantly provided.  These subsets included gender, age, health, ethnicity and location.

In addition, social media was heavily used to present role models from their own communities advocating their use.

A similar issue exists in education. Solutions exist to key issues but they are not adopted because parents and pupils from specific subsets are not engaged and so failed solutions are often repeated year-on-year.

Managing the risk and engaging the public in the debate

There is no perfect solution to containing or curing the virus. All the actions taken came with a degree of risk which resulted in some of the vaccines initially not being used, however, in the end this risk was managed.  In education there is often a search for the perfect solution. We seem to enjoy finding reasons why something should not be done rather than managing the risk which is inherent in much of what we do. This approach can entrench practice in mediocrity.

Working with more than one solution to the problem

As a result of the acceptance that a perfect solution would not be found and that all solutions came with a degree of risk, the health services were more willing to embrace several solutions. In fact, five vaccines approved by many countries used three different approaches. Their impact produced several similar general results but with some small but significant side effects and a debate still continues as to whether they are more effective singularly or combined.

We need in education to guard against the search for the singular, perfect solution and be more willing to accept that there might be more than one way of doing it.

The urgency shown by governments to eradicate the virus

Finally, the urgency shown by governments to eradicate the virus was highly commendable and without it any return to normality that we are now experiencing would have been extremely difficult.

In education we have known for years that lack of literacy and numeracy skills seriously limit children’s development, yet we still refuse to totally eradicate it. It makes us begin to wonder if we as a profession have become happy with our own brand of herd immunity?

We hope you have found inspiration from this and the previous article comparing the response of the health services to the pandemic with the approach education takes to innovation. These posts are created from the notes we made ahead of the Horasis US panel on March 4 discussing the pandemic impact on US and Global education. We are sure you have your own take on the matter.  At the conclusion of the first article, we mentioned the work of Reconnect London. In this article we would like to remind our readers of the pioneering work being undertaken by Challenge Partners who we reference in our comments about the use of peer review. Their annual National Conference takes place on Thursday April 28, 2022, at the Oval in London. As usual they have assembled an impressive list of guest speakers and the Partners are running a number of sessions to Share Leading Practice. It is their first face to face conference in two years. If you wish to join them the details are on their website, which can be found here.

Take care and stay safe

George, OLEVI Chair

Professor Sir George Berwick, CBE