23 April 2021

Further education (FE) has been described as a part of the education system that is often undervalued and often neglected. The pandemic added further strain to this system and affected thousands of 16+ students during a pivotal time that is considered critical to their development in their career and future plans.  

Three PGCE trainee teachers, from the School of Education and Communities at the University of East London (UEL), spoke about their concerns and hopes based on the impact of the past year on teachers and on the students - as well as their hopes for the FE sector after lockdown.

The one constant was the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trainee teacher Emilia Boulton said students and teachers had "lost trust" in the system. She felt teachers had been "at the mercy of policy makers" and morale had been affected.


The government has let us down and students and teachers have lost trust that needs to be found again."

Emilia Boulton, trainee teacher at UEL, said.

Schools and colleges were closed between January and late March in line with the national lockdown.

Emilia said teaching online had presented challenges and revealed her frustration with digital poverty, with some students having no access to laptops. She said, "With hardly any warning or time to organise the logistics, valuable teaching and learning time has been lost."

She praised Newham College, however, for its "constant" communication and contingency planning in support of staff.

The government extended the Get Help with Technology programme in January 2021 to support 16- to 19-year-olds to access education remotely, which forms part of a £400 million investment to help children and young people continue their education at home and access online social care services.  
So, can teachers and students move forward?  

Alexander Cazaly, who teaches at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) said, "That is the big question, isn't it? We have had to re-adapt and we will need to continue to do that. Simple standardisation is just not going to work especially if you are not teaching affluent students. Many of my students had to work on their phones and had to find a way to complete a task or presentation because they do not have laptops. 

"Everyone has had such diverse experiences of learning during lockdown that we should use this experience when we move out of lockdown and prioritise what is best for students and their future."

Emilia agreed. "If anything, this pandemic has brought to light the clear disparities between the various education sectors. I hope this pandemic has forced the government to consider investing more in this sector. If we look at core skills, this is a space where these skills need to be addressed."

A third UEL trainee teacher, Sumandip Dhesi, said she understood why students were "disengaged" when learning online. Sumandip, who is teaching art and design at a college in Chelsea, said, "In a way this pandemic has taught teachers and students to become more resilient.  It has put us in a sink or swim situation and, although teachers have been driven to make a success of it all, it has still taken its toll with many of my colleagues and peers feeling burnt out.

"Our community at the college has been incredibly supportive towards teachers and students.  Teachers have had to go the extra mile as many of the students have lost faith in the system."
All is not lost, said Emilia. "The sector just needs more support and should not be seen as a last resort - it is a space for potential."

Sumandip agreed.  "If anything, I do hope that this pandemic will have taught more compassion in all of us."

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