Student perceptions of COVID-19

How do students feel about the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on their education? During the school lockdowns experienced across the country, Butler College in Perth, Western Australia, felt it was the opportune time to capture student voice via an online survey, to gather a snapshot of how students were feeling about the pandemic.

In mid-May, the College put out a voluntary, online student survey to ask students about their perceptions of the educational impact of COVID-19. The survey was conducted during school time and all students were provided with an iPad if they did not have their own device. There were 855 responses from students in Years 7-12, representing approximately half of the student population.

The responses to the survey have since promoted changes within the school. Conversations amongst the leadership team have been fast-tracked and actioned, which has led to greater use of online resources and an emphasis on clear expectations when it comes to using the state Department of Education's online system, Connect. In-school presentations and department meetings have taken place to ensure these have been actioned.

Student responses to the survey

Although the College has 1700 students, at the time of the survey distribution, student attendance was approximately 1400 each day with almost 300 students absent throughout weeks 3 to 8. The College is an integrated site that caters for around 160 students with special needs. The survey allowed for students to use a read aloud function to increase accessibility.

In the survey, students were asked: How important is it to you that your education continues during this COVID-19 period?

Of the students who indicated it was of high importance, here are some sample responses.

I am worried/concerned about:

  • The effect on my education. How online learning makes learning harder. The impact on my grades that online learning can make seeing as I don't have internet currently. (Year 7 female)
  • That classes may get cancelled, school may get cancelled completely or that one person infects the school. (Year 10 male)
  • That I won't be able to graduate. I won't receive all the schooling I need. I will miss out on important educational events. (Year 12 female)

Students were also asked to rate: How concerned are you about your education and the impact that the COVID-19 period may have on your education?

The response options were: ‘Very concerned about my education', ‘Somewhat concerned about my education', ‘Neither [I do not have any feeling either way]' or ‘Not at all concerned about my education'.

The results show that the higher the year level, the higher the student level of concern for their education. This was similar to the ‘not concerned at all' response (the lower the year level, the higher the level of non-concern for the educational impact by COVID-19). In the Year 12 cohort, only 5 per cent of students overall selected this option. In four out of six year levels (except Years 8 and 11), females were far more concerned than males about the impact that COVID-19 could have on their education.

Students were also asked to respond to this open-ended question: As a student in 2020, what are your top three worries/concerns about COVID-19 (related to school)?'

The most common concerns were about grades, missing schoolwork and comments related to online learning. Here are some examples:

  • I will not achieve my goals, I will not get a good job in the future, I will struggle in later life. (Year 8 male)
  • I struggle with school in the first place. And I am now failing all my classes. I'm concerned that I won't graduate. That I will fall behind. That school will shut down again and I will have to be home schooled, and I struggle a lot with home schooling, I don't want to fall more behind. (Year 12 female)
  • That my grades won't be high enough to reach ATAR level for Year 11; That I may [have] missed key points of school topics (specifically maths)… I am really worried that I won't make it into ATAR for next year. (Year 10 female)
  • Not passing Year 7, not getting good grades, not having a good education. (Year 7 female)
  • I don't like online school, I prefer to do my work at school. (Year 11 female)
  • Set up like online meetings once a week for each class or even more communication between teachers and students via connect. Maybe the teachers could send out a message for every lesson or a summary of the week's lessons in a message to students. (Year 11 female)

How the College has responded

In late 2019, the College revised its three-year business plan with a renewed focus on relationships as a ‘College that Cares'.

In alignment with this belief and in a timely response to students' feedback from the survey, the Principal Barry Rose made time to attend every Year 12 class (a total of 12 classes) during a Maths lesson over two consecutive days when early survey data was analysed.

The aim of this approach was to be highly responsive to students' immediate and current concerns about COVID-19 and education in general. In the 15-minute discussions, the Principal was able to clearly convey the approach to care for students and to alleviate their concerns.

One major concern raised by many Year 12 students was related to the annual School Ball; a major social event usually held early in the year and an event that is highly anticipated by final year students. The Principal reassured students some alternative arrangement would take place in the future when social distancing conditions and group gathering numbers permitted. Since that conversation, the school ball has rescheduled to September.

In regards to concerns from students failing or falling behind, the Principal reassured them that all lessons and assessments would be carefully planned and students would receive the support needed. Additional before and after school classes were also arranged to support students.

The overall survey data is currently being analysed in depth to provide more information as to how students are feeling and how the school can better respond to these concerns going forward.

Teacher survey feedback

A similar survey has been conducted with teachers that provides information on lessons learnt and new opportunities for the future at the College. Overall, it received a 67 per cent response rate from 120 teachers.

When asked whether they would like to see more technology/online learning implemented (after COVID-19) at the College, 66 per cent of participants said ‘yes', and 34 per cent said ‘no'.

Here is a sample of their feedback responses:

  • ‘I think COVID-19 has taught us the importance of technology and keeping up to date on [School Learning Management System]. I think uploading everything to [School LMS] is a good practice we should continue to ensure all students have access to work, regardless of whether they are at school or at home.'
  • ‘That we can pool resources and plan units of work as a group to reduce the planning load on all within our respective departments.'
  • ‘The reduction of whole school staff meetings and initiatives has enabled teachers to focus their energy on their students.'
  • ‘Relationships, mental health, physical health, resiliency and compassion are all infinitely more important than academic results.'

Moving forward, the College plans to take an active approach to increase its implementation of online learning and the support required to do so. In addition, we will be looking at ways to continue to improve our practices and build on what we've learned through the experience of COVID-19.

How have you gauged how students are feeling throughout the pandemic? Have you also done a formal survey or have you been receiving informal feedback? What have been some of the key responses from students? Is there any one area that they’re particularly concerned about?

Students have experienced some significant changes to their education as a result of COVID-19. How do you plan to draw on these experiences to build resilience in students? What support do you need to ensure you’re able to do this successfully?