IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


A duty of care and a duty to teach: educational priorities in response to the COVID-19 crisis

This study explores the challenges the COVID-19 crisis sets primary school teachers.

These challenges will be considered in the light of the diverse roles primary schools find themselves playing in their local communities, and in recognition that roles will vary depending upon levels of social disadvantage.

This research has been funded by UKRI in partnership with the ESRC as part of their call to address the health, social, economic and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The project runs for four months, from 19 May to 8 September 2020. 


This is a rapid turnaround project designed to inform education policy decision-making in the light of the Covid crisis. The project has documented teachers’ immediate responses to the COVID-19 crisis from the start of lockdown onwards, including their reflections on how education might need to change.

It has compared the dilemmas teachers faced with the concerns expressed in public debate on the impacts of COVID-19 on education, and used a Rapid Evidence Assessment to identify relevant research evidence that can be brought to bear on the likely impacts of school shutdowns.

The findings will be used to:

  • Inform decisions about the terms upon which schools re-open, including any implications for high stakes tests and inspection in the coming year.
  • Set an agenda for public reflection on the role that primary schools can play in building a more resilient education system in partnership with their local communities.

The main aims of the project are:

  • to explore the challenges that the COVID-19 crisis sets primary schools as teachers weigh a duty of care (for their pupils' well-being and welfare) and a duty to teach (given their responsibilities for curriculum delivery) in their interactions with families during the lockdown
  • to explore whether and how actions taken during the crisis are leading primary schools and their staff to a) reconsider how they can best support their communities, particularly those living in disadvantage, b) and/or rethink what is most important in teaching and learning, with a focus on the literacy curriculum
  • to inform decisions that will need to be made about how schools resume 'business as usual' post lockdown, including any implications for high stakes tests and inspection
  • to consider the legacy from the crisis in terms of a more general public conversation about shared purposes and values in education going forward, once schools fully reopen.

The project uses the following methods: 

  • Teacher surveys - of their current actions and future priorities in the light of COVID-19
  • Documentary collection - sampling from the online conversations on what schools should be doing during the Covid crisis, to which different stakeholder groups are contributing (the research community, professional bodies, politicians, parent groups and the media)
  • A Rapid Evidence Assessment - of the peer-reviewed research literature that can contribute to understanding the impact of school shutdowns in the areas of most concern in the public conversation. With a focus on outcomes relevant to building school-community resilience, and assessment of the different strategies adopted to mitigate risks.

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