Education: Long-Term Recovery Not Short-Term Catch-Up

10th June 2021

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The future of education must focus on long-term recovery and students’ mental health, not short-term catch-up, according to a new report from Voice Community, published today (7 June 2021). The Future of Education follows a survey of Community union’s education and early years members across the UK.

Fears have also been raised of a mass exodus in the education and early years sector after the report revealed that over a fifth of staff intend to leave in the coming three years. 22.39% of education and early years staff indicated that they plan to leave within the next three years. The primary reasons given for leaving the sector were the pressures that accompanied the role, high administrative workload and low pay.

Commenting on the report, Deborah Lawson, Assistant General Secretary with Community Union (Voice Community education and early years section), said:

“Our members have shared many of their concerns with us about the pandemic and about education and the early years post-pandemic. The members who took part were from a wide range of different settings, but from their responses came through the clear consensus that we cannot return to how things were. We need to move forward differently.

“The aftermath of the pandemic represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change education and early years 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’.

“There is no quick-fix solution for politicians to make headlines with, tick some boxes and pretend it’s ‘job done’. Adding some hours to the school day here, shaving a week off the summer holidays there, in an attempt to return to the old ways of a system that needs to be reformed, will not work.

“The new system must meet the needs of learners, not learners the needs of the system.”

Summary of findings

Experiences during the pandemic

1. Online learning has not been as effective as in-person-learning.
2. Staff in the sector have worked incredibly hard under challenging circumstances.
3. The gap between the most and least advantaged students has widened. Students’ social skills as well as their academic abilities have been dramatically affected.
4. Many staff haven’t been supported to manage online learning.


1. The mental health of students is members’ overwhelming concern.
2. The challenge of recovery will be broader than academic catch-up.
3. The burden of administration and standardised achievements are hampering the ability of staff to focus on supporting and educating children.

Staff retention

1. As a result of the pandemic and as part of long-term trends there is a retention crisis facing the sector.
2. 22% of Voice Community members plan to leave education within the next three years.
3. Staff want to leave the sector primarily because of the pressures of the role and workload.
4. Low pay is a specific problem in early years settings, and for classroom/teaching assistants.
5. Career development has taken a backseat during the pandemic.

Early Years

1. Staff in the early years sector do not feel valued.
2. Pay in the early years sector is too low.
3. Funding in the sector is inadequate and inconsistent.
4. Young children have lost social skills during the pandemic.

Summary of recommendations

Recommendations to support recovery

1. Recovery, not catch-up, through dialogue, funding, and expectations.
2. Mental health support needs to be provided for students and staff.
3. More support staff in the classroom combined with effective use of support staff.
4. Increase in funding targeted towards disadvantaged learners.
5. Increase the pupil premium and special needs funding. Make both sets of funding more reactive.
6. Value the creative subjects.
7. Support in person learning with digital technology.
8. Encourage greater engagement with parents/carers and the local community to embed and enrich learning.
9. Any additional or extended hours must not come at the expense of teachers’ workloads and must be either paid or avoided.

Recommendations to support staff to stay in education and early years

1. Increased PPA [planning, preparation and assessment] time for all school staff and added flexibility, including the ability to take it at home.
2. Value support staff through pay, conditions, and career development.
3. Regular personal development time for staff and a personal training allowance.
4. Increased numbers of health and safety reps in schools as well as added rights and protections for those reps
5. Protection for staff raising health and safety concerns across the sector
6. A reduction in workload, especially in relation to data demands.

Recommendations to the early years sector

1. Value the sector with appropriate training, qualifications, and funding
2. Ensure a fair wage is paid to every worker in the sector.
3. Fix the “free entitlement” so it is truly free and works for both early years settings and parents
4. Career development for workers in early years
5. Focus on social skills and mental wellbeing.
6. Return to learning through play.

The survey

Voice Community’s survey ran during February 2021. The interim findings were published in April 2021.

The 607 respondents to the survey came from:

• 10.4% Scotland;
• 0.5% Northern Ireland;
• 4.46% Wales; and
• 84.65% from England.
Respondents included:
• classroom teachers: 25.42%;
• early years practitioners: 21.1%;
• teaching assistants and classroom support: 26.08%;
• supply teachers/tutors/peripatetic teachers: 3.82%; and
• head teachers/school leaders/heads of Department: 5.98%.

The full report can be found here

Voice Community is the education and early years section of Community union, and supports and represents thousands of members across the UK in the education and early years sectors. If you aren’t a member of a union or are looking to change your union, join Voice Community today. Or alternatively, visit their website for more information.

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