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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented disruption to schools and learners in England. Schools were closed from March 2020, with only the children of key workers and those identified as vulnerable being invited to attend. Most children in England were instead expected to learn remotely, with most schools providing learning materials for home use and/or digital lessons. External exams did not take place in the 2019/20 academic year and performance league tables for the year will not be published.

There has been significant focus on ‘recovering’ the existing system but there is also an opportunity to ‘build back better’. There is a growing sense of urgency about the need to recover the education system and ‘lost learning’ among students after the pandemic. But less has been said about the pandemic as an opportunity for us to reimagine our education system going forward. England’s education system undoubtedly has strengths that we must seek to retain in the future. But it also suffers from a number of longstanding weaknesses that pre-date the pandemic. The pandemic provides us with an opportunity to stand back and reflect on these weaknesses.

This research identifies three areas where the pandemic has the potential to open up new conversations about the future of schooling in England. These are set out in more detail in the chapters that follow but can be summarised as:

  • a conversation about how our education system can prepare children for life, not just exams
  • a conversation about where and how learning takes place – as well as who is involved in it
  • a conversation about the need to tackle inequalities outside, as well as inside, the classroom.
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