Lockdown is over, and the English public draws open the curtains. Some of us – we’re now called keyworkers – have been working throughout; we have had the chance to view the society around us from different vantage points. Personally, I’ve had more time to read, listen and ponder. Whilst it has been work, it has definitely been at a slower pace, and all the better for it.
My overwhelming emotion at this juncture is sadness. Sadness because I feel we’ve missed some opportunities. A crisis like this was (and still is – let’s be positive) a chance to make those paradigm shifts we’ve often talked about, or at least I have.
As this is an educational blog, the missed opportunities listed below have a link to the world of education, but they touch other areas of society. And as a hopeful person, one who believes in the human capacity to do incalculable good, we can still make these changes. Sadly, it will have to be from the bottom-up. We have the misfortune of living alongside an inept, mendacious and cynical government.
Here are my top ten missed opportunities.
- Education in the Community. I’ve been bashing on about learning in the community for years – learning that is linked to the common good. Schools as being joined up to local businesses and groups. In the private sector, there is an appetite for innovation which has been largely ignored, but is still there if you don’t take no for an answer. Schools can exist in other buildings, to the benefit of whole communities. We could have done this for the whole of the 2020/21 year, maintaining smaller classes and being in a better position were a second wave of Covid-19 to arrive.
- Pedestrianisation. April was almost devoid of cars. May too. Children came to school without traffic and noise. The air they breathed was cleaner. This was the time to introduce road closures and innovative environmental projects. Now the cars have returned and the attention of councils is back on financial survival, not innovation.
- Exams. Scrap the SATs and probably the GCSEs too. This fallow summer could have led to permanent obsolescence. Back in May, Mr Gibb actually informed parliament that SATs serve no purpose for pupils. At the very least, let’s get rid of the league tables. If Singapore can do it, surely we can.
- Exercise for children. Childhood obesity is a growing problem. There could have been a really radical but simple lockdown initiative such as free bikes for children. Or free training shoes. Or at least initiatives that persuaded families to go to parks. We ran a Photography Competition – it was great to see so many families out and about with nature.
- Total reinvention of the Free School Meals funding. We all know that there are many, many working poor who do not meet the criteria for the FSM funding. Many are the same keyworkers everyone was fawning over in April. They’re now largely forgotten; the clapping has stopped. But we’ve got vouchers for the summer, so let’s just carry on as normal. It’s a classic fudge which ignores the underlying issues.
- Online Learning. We had some really innovative responses to the crisis from many schools, across all sectors. I suspect some of it has been really, really good for pupils. But the latest guidance for schools almost erases it from memory, instead of building on the start we’ve made. I believe that all schools can be mini-Oak Academies, and all schools should have been given some funding to set themselves up as one.
- Ofsted as a support. I don’t have the latest on this so it might be actually happening as I write, but the redeployment of inspectors to local authorities is a good beginning. Now is the time to change the paradigm. Let’s see inspectors as support partners, working alongside schools in the medium to long term. Everyone would support this I think.
- Children’s Centres as permanent Hubs for so-called ‘vulnerable families’. Children thrive when families are thriving. Rename them as Family Centres. And if they had been closed? Well, re-open them again, at least in time for the next pandemic.
- Obliteration of all data pertaining to schools. If there is one thing this crisis has taught us, it is that data is dangerously unreliable and, in the hands of mendacious fools, very misleading. So just delete it all for every school. We could have done it in April, and we still can in September.
- Putting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of the curriculum. We may have missed the chance to reflect on the one issue which is far greater than a trifling global pandemic. Namely, the destruction of our planet. It should not be seen as the preserve of the woke, but instead the veins and arteries of all we teach in schools.
A final word on agency. Headteachers have enormous power. The managerialism of the past twenty-five years has created a low-risk culture where random targets masquerade as success criteria. It’s led to headteachers waiting for guidance before acting, pausing to check with several bodies before making decisions.
One of the benefits of having a load of punk rockers for a government is that it is entirely legitimate now to say ‘sod off’ to authority, whilst flicking the Vs wherever we go. As far as I am concerned, Cummings has given me the green light (not that I really needed it to be honest) to do what the hell I like, as long as governors, staff and parents are not vehemently opposed to it, and it has the interests of the pupils at heart.
So whilst the ten above may be missed opportunities from a national perspective, in my patch I’ll be cracking on.