Over the summer holidays, many in the education sector use the relative quiet to plan their marketing and PR campaigns for the year ahead so they can hit the ground running come September.
But this year, things are a little more complicated than before.
Whereas previously, planning often involved updating your messaging to make it more relevant to current policies or trends, this year, a wholescale rethink may be required.
So much has altered in education, that what previously might have headed up the to do list for a teacher or school leader may no longer make it into the top 10 things they need to think about right now.
Covid-19 has changed everything. So what does that mean for your PR planning?
The more things change the more they stay the same
To develop a good PR or marketing campaign in any sector, you need to tap into your audience’s hopes and dreams. Or calm their worst nightmares. This has not changed. It’s just that you need to take a fresh look at what a teacher or school leader’s priorities are as they return to school in September 2020.
With this in mind, we thought it would be helpful to pull together some of the latest research to unpick what teachers will need help with this Autumn. If your organisation can genuinely demonstrate that you are responding to teachers’ current problems, your communications and campaigns will stand out above the rest.
What’s on teachers’ minds
So what are teachers thinking about at the moment?
Closing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers
The Education Endowment Foundation recently examined the existing research available on the impact of lockdown on the attainment gap. The conclusion was that the impact of lockdown would reverse any progress made in this area in the last decade, with estimates indicating the gap would widen by 38%.
No one will be more acutely aware of this than the head that knows how many children are in receipt of pupil premium in their school or the teacher who has struggled unsuccessfully to get a response from the parents of the child who has only submitted a couple of items of work for marking since lockdown began.
These children will be front and foremost in the minds of educators as September nears. Brands that are sympathetic to this challenge or that prove they can help reengage learners will fare better than those that can’t.
Developing and delivering a catch-up curriculum
Teachers will be facing the prospect of working out how much learning pupils have missed during lockdown, and the need for a catch-up curriculum could be causing some sleepless nights.
According to Teacher Tapp, the teacher survey app, some year groups and subjects have fared worse than others during the pandemic. 63% of Key Stage 2 teachers say they have only delivered half or less than half of the intended curriculum, and for Key Stage 1 and Early Years, the figure is 57%.
Helping children catch up on essential primary learning will be a priority.
For secondary schools, art, design and technology and PE teachers were most likely to say that pupils missed out on at least half of the curriculum they should have received. And only 11% of English teachers say they had delivered the entire curriculum during lockdown.
Schools will be looking for support during this catch-up phase, and if your business can help teachers focus on key learning priorities to make up for lost time, make sure that’s reflected in your messaging.
Pupil mental health
The emotional impact of living through Covid-19 cannot be underestimated, and schools will be concerned about their pupils’ state of mind at the start of term. Children may have felt the impact of strained household finances, family illness or bereavement.
Bright Minds carried out a survey of young people with a history of mental health difficulties which found that 80% of children agreed the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse, and 41% said it was much worse.
Younger children are also affected. Parents and carers of children aged between four and 10 years of age reported that over a one-month period in lockdown, they saw increases in their child’s emotional difficulties, according to a University of Oxford study.
With pupil wellbeing at the top of the agenda, schools may be adapting their timetable, staffing and classroom space to provide additional emotional support for individuals and small groups. Headteachers and SENCos may be keen to access resources which strengthen a school’s approach to pastoral care in the coming months, and they are likely to welcome brands which understand the importance of good mental health.
Teacher mental health
Teacher Tapp regularly measures the anxiety levels of educators. Following the announcement that schools should start planning to re-open for select primary school year groups from the start of June, 16% of state school teachers and 40% of headteachers reported feeling highly anxious.
September 2020 could see a similar pattern of anxiety levels among the teaching profession.
Teaching staff may be concerned about the extent of the work ahead of them in tackling learning losses, they could also be anxious about the safety of their work environment and the changes imposed on them by social distancing measures. Of course, many staff members are carrying the burden of family worries too.
Schools are likely to be focusing on teacher wellbeing by renewing policies and procedures and providing additional training for staff. Organisations which understand the challenges and can offer flexible CPD options could be well placed to help schools support their teams.
Maintaining safe distances while learning
Each new school year brings something of the unknown – there are new cohorts, colleagues and timetables to get used to. This year, there’s the added task of keeping everyone as safe as possible from Covid-19 infection – which is no small challenge.
Depending on the age of the children, teachers may find themselves reinforcing the social distancing message endlessly throughout the day, ensuring equipment is sanitised and teaching children in their bubbles.
Schools are expecting to welcome all children back in September, although this could change, of course, and the government advice is that “while coronavirus (COVID-19) remains in the community, this means making judgments at a school level about how to balance minimising any risks from coronavirus by maximising control measures with providing a full educational experience for children and young people.”
This may involve rearranging classrooms, removing assembly from the school day and staggering start and finishing times. School suppliers should consider how their solutions can help schools as they go through this period of change.
It’s likely that school leaders and teachers will spend this summer planning for the unpredictable as nobody knows exactly what September has in store. But by tuning in to teachers’ thinking, education companies can ensure their messaging hits the mark.
The best PR and marketing campaigns will do what they’ve always done – understand teachers’ challenges and find ways to help.
To find out more about planning your education PR campaign, you might like to read our PR Planning blog.