Birmingham Education and COVID-19 Initiative

Education during school closures is a challenge that risks opening up old and new gaps and making disadvantages worse for some. But it might also show us new ways to facilitate learning for children and young people. Through this initiative the University and Birmingham City Council are working together to ensure that:

  • we have a clear picture of the evolving education offer in the city
  • we know what pupils are accessing and how they and their parents are doing
  • schools have the best possible support and resources

Longer term we hope that the lessons that we learn during COVID-19 might change education for the better, for everyone.

Call for Insight

This is an invitation to submit information, insight and reflections to the University of Birmingham’s Education and COVID-19 Initiative. 

At present we have limited systematic knowledge about the detail or range of education provision being developed by schools, Local Authorities, the Department for Education, and many others, including commercial entities. Furthermore, this provision is constantly evolving as institutions and organisations adapt to the need to facilitate education in the context of school closures, social distancing and, ultimately, re-opening under new conditions. Even less is known about how education provision is being received by children and families. Furthermore, we do not as yet understand what the short, medium and longer term implications of education in these form and under these conditions will be for students, teachers, schools or societies. In particular, we might anticipate that the effects will be felt differently by different sections of society and that there is the potential for existing gaps to be exacerbated or for new gaps to emerge. It is crucial that we bring together insight from stakeholders and education experts to enable us to develop the very best responses to an education landscape being shaped by COVID-19.  

We are keen to collect information about and generate insight on: 

  1. What is being done to secure education provision for children and young people during COVID-19. 
  2. Forms of support for education systems and other agencies in the short and medium term as they move from emergency improvisation, through more sustained innovation for learning and flourishing, and to returns to forms of school-based education. 
  3. Any differential impacts of school closures on learning and strategies to ameliorate these.
  4. Possible strategies to effect sustained change to education systems, institutions and practices for the medium and long term, with an emphasis on education quality, in-demand skills, social justice and equity. 

We are particularly concerned to understand the implication of the impacts of COVID-19 in relation to:

  1. Assessment and learning
  2. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic pupils and families
  3. Disadvantage
  4. Early Years
  5. Institutional and Systems Leadership
  6. Looked After Children
  7. Low- and no-tech learning
  8. Special Educational Needs and Disability
  9. Transitions – from early years to school, from primary school to secondary school, from school to further and higher education
  10. Traveller Children 

The initiative is being led by Professor Deborah Youdell, School of Education, University of Birmingham. 

Submit your insights into education provision

Project Team

Project Leads

Deborah Youdell 

Deborah Youdell is Professor of Sociology of Education and incoming Head of School in the School of Education in the University of Birmingham. Her work is at the forefront of the developing field of biosocial education, which brings emerging knowledge in the new biological sciences together with social science accounts of education to generate new insights into learning and the learner. She has had a longstanding concern with how inequalities are connected to subjectivities, everyday practices, pedagogy, institutional processes and policy. Her research spans issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, social class, ability and disability.

Deborah Youdell

Ian McGimpsey 

Ian McGimpsey is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham. His work focusses on the sociological analysis of youth and youth services. His research, taking place within youth service providers, has focussed on how policy on education, youth and localism relates to the identities and practices of youth workers and related occupational groups. Central to his work is a concern with inequality and social justice, and the role youth services can play in working towards greater inclusion and equality. 

Tim O’Neill 

Tim is currently the statutory director of children’s services (DCS) at Birmingham City Council, a position he has held since January 2019.

Tim has worked in Local Government since 2001 in senior roles at Derby City Council, Leicestershire County Council, Northamptonshire County Council, Nottingham City Council and Rutland County Council.  He has a PhD in the History of Medicine from the University of Manchester, where he has previously taught. 

Tim O'Neill

Tom Perry

Tom Perry from the University of Birmingham, is an education researcher, lecturer and former school teacher working to foster research- and evidence-informed policy and practice in education. His research and teaching centres on school improvement and educational leadership, equipping school and system leaders at all levels to use research and evidence for school improvement. Tom is a nationally-recognised expert in quantitative research and secondary data analysis.

tom perry

Lisa Fraser 

Details to follow

Karl Kitching 

Details to follow

Project Team

  • Simon Asquith
  • Sarah Benson
  • Kalwant Bhopal
  • Frances Child
  • Claire Crawford
  • Joanne Cliffe
  • Colin Diamond
  • Graeme Dobson
  • Maria Emmanouela Terlektsi
  • Maddy Findon
  • David Gillborn
  • Karen Guldberg
  • Reza Gholami
  • Sarah Hall
  • Michael Hand
  • Tom Harrison
  • Rachel Hewett
  • Karl Kitching 
  • Peter Kraftl
  • Julian Lonbay
  • Jane Martin
  • Andrea McLeod
  • Jawiria Naseem
  • Laura D’Olimpio
  • Nicola Smith
  • Anita Soni
  • Wendy Symes
  • Tracy Whatmore

Commission Activites

The Commission will be running a number of activities:  

Virtual Workshops

These workshops will bring together key actors and strategic leaders in education. Beginning with a focus on Birmingham and the West Midlands we will expand to address national and international concerns. The workshops will consider education during and post COVID-19 and identify common and good practices as well as principle challenges and solutions as well as new opportunities presented. 

Intelligence gathering

As well as liasing with key actors and institutions, we will also gather information through online diaries and surveys which will be distributed rapidly and widely to gather the insight of sector leaders, the Birmingham policy community, practitioners, community organisations and families, regarding education responses to COVID-19. In addition, online surveys will be distributed nationally to education leaders, teachers and parents to gather invaluable national-level information about the range of practices being developed in these circumstances. The focus of information gathering will include: 

  • Systems leadership
  • Emergent/adaptive practices i.e. practice in schools with key worker and vulnerable children; schools’ offer to out of school children; family education practices; provision through communities and networks
  • Infrastructure changes
  • Multi-agency and private sector participation
  • Capacity to adapt
  • Impact on daily life, including employment
  • Emergent equity issues
  • New opportunities 

Guidance reports and online resources/webpages

These will be collaboratively authored, setting out the learning from the Commission for multiple audiences. This would underpin a larger research bid to the ESRC that would explore education and policy making in advanced democracy post-Covid-19. It would also be able to inform the two COVID-19 related Government inquiries called to report 22 July 2020. 


Press kit

For more information, please contact Chloe Ainslie, Communications Manager (Social Sciences), University of Birmingham, Email:, tel: +0121 414 8301, or contact the press office  on +44 (0)7789 921 165.

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