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Alice Taylor, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data

26 November 2020, 4:50 UTC Share

Continuity in a crisis: how WISERD’s relationships enabled research on young people’s learning in lockdown

The Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data demonstrates how strong relationships with the education sector in Wales helped researchers understand young people’s experience of learning in lockdown.

When the UK went into lockdown life changed dramatically for children and young people across the UK. Pupils were sent home and learning moved online. With schools across Wales closed, many researchers would have struggled to get access to young people, but our strong relationships with schools and Welsh Government ensured quick access to crucial data on education in lockdown.

The Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data (WISERD) is a research centre, established in 2008, working across five universities in Wales, drawing on a range of social science disciplines and methodological expertise. Due to our focus on mixed methods, we were able to use different data sources and tools to build up a good picture of young people’s experience in lockdown.

Our relationship with schools across Wales began when we established the WISERD Education Multi Cohort Study in 2012. Over the last eight years researchers have built these trusted relationships, visiting schools across Wales to carry out surveys with pupils in English and Welsh. These long-standing relationships enabled us to access pupils remotely while in lockdown. Teachers sent digital surveys to pupils at home in June and July, asking young people in detail about their experience of home learning as well as asking more broadly about their experience of lockdown, for example, how they had helped family, neighbours and friends and their support for the Welsh Government’s approach to dealing with COVID-19.

The responses shed light on the amount of schoolwork pupils had done at home and the frequency of their studying, with valuable information gained about teacher and parental support and access to the Welsh Government’s online learning platform, Hwb. Fears about the future were also captured, for example 60% of children surveyed worried that when they returned to school they wouldn’t be able to catch up with their schoolwork. This echoed survey data from the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and research by the young people’s charity, Children in Wales.

Earlier relationships built with young people during research on the transmission of civic values between generations, part of a previous ESRC WISERD Civil Society Research Centre, were also reignited enabling researchers to conduct interviews with young people, now aged 17 and 18. This gave insight into the experience of older young people in Further Education who were carrying out home-learning during lockdown.

Last year we launched the WISERD Education Data Lab, with funding from the ESRC and Welsh Government. This collaborative resource allows us to undertake independent analysis of administrative education data (initially we have access to 79 government datasets) to generate high quality research-based evidence. This analysis will help inform and challenge our understanding of educational processes and outcomes to support the Wales education sector to meet some of the most contemporary and pressing educational issues facing Wales.

Within the Education Data Lab we have gained access to data on Hwb, the digital platform for learning and teaching in Wales, used by pupils during lockdown. Hwb, a Welsh Government funded tool, provides its users with access to a range of centrally-funded, bilingual, digital tools and resources, including Google for Education and Microsoft Office. WISERD researchers have been looking at which schools (teachers and pupils) used Hwb, how often and for how long and they have broken the data on schools down by sector, local authority, proportion of pupils receiving Free School Meals and the language the schools deliver education in.

Early insights have been shared with education teams in Welsh Government. By giving a picture of what the Hwb usage looked like before and during lockdown issues of inequality of access can be flagged and, hopefully, addressed at a time when many schools are using online learning again due to teachers and pupils self-isolating. Researchers have now been given continued access to Hwb data through this academic year, meaning we can continue to analyse its use.

Being able to gather, access and analyse this data has allowed us to open up a discussion and debate about young people’s learning in lockdown and to raise important issues of inequality, many of which merit further research. Without trusted, long established relationships with teachers, young people and Welsh Government we simply wouldn’t have been able to start to ask these important policy questions about young people’s education in Wales, both during lockdown and beyond.

Alice Taylor is an Engagement Manager at the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data. Alice is based at Cardiff University.

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