3. Food, Glorious Food.
Monday morning was the big launch of our ‘Food4All’ initiative. The team at Homebaked had worked all day Sunday to get everything ready (respect), and it was an emotional moment seeing the school minibuses setting off, laden with fresh, nourishing food. They came back at lunchtime with mostly positive stories of delighted parents and pupils. Once again, children were so happy to see school staff in person; this interaction cannot be underestimated in its positive impact, and is often ignored by proponents of online teaching.
During the rest of the week, I speak to a range of parents to get their feedback. All really buy into the ‘local economy, local produce’ angle, and they fully support the move away from vouchers. The only negative is that several children won’t eat the hot meals – parents say the children are fussy eaters. I suppose that’s inevitable. Again, I’m caught between two stools here. Do I take a more forceful line? (well, don’t take no for an answer. They have to appreciate the food that’s put in front of them) , or cut my losses and suggest they share any uneaten food with local elderly neighbours etc. I opt for the latter. My favourite conversation is with a family who had made use of their Christmas vouchers by doing a big shop the previous Friday. So when the substantial parcels arrived on Monday morning, they had no room in the fridge! I believe neighbours came to the rescue. But they were SO grateful, it really cheered me up.
Such is the interest in the initiative, on Tuesday I do an interview with Capital Radio and then on Friday with Radio Merseyside; I hope any publicity benefits Homebaked. Such community-run associations, set up to support local families, will play a vital role in the post-Covid reconstructions. Well, they should do anyway.
This whole area – the health of the nation, so to speak – is so huge and complicated, but immense in its urgency. In equal measures, I get depressed and angry about it. One of the reasons the death toll is so large in the UK is that we are a really unhealthy nation. Much of the food we expect people to buy is horrible and desperately unhealthy. We’ve compounded the problem by eviscerating public services and community support services over the last ten years. Instead, the government just paints over the cracks, over and over again, with ignorant politicians and their advisors wittering on about vouchers and mental health. I’m convinced that this can only be solved by the public, hence my belief in a high-profile Citizens’ Assembly. It’s become too emotive for politicians to solve.
The other major objective of the week was to try and get a feel for how our remote learning is working. We use a platform called Seesaw, which staff, parents and pupils are very familiar with. We do not, I repeat not, do any live lessons – maybe one or two, but these are exceptions. Look. live lessons are not the silver bullet some think them to be. They may have some merit for Year 10 upwards, but I don’t think it’s the right approach in primary schools. Many teachers will burn out by half-term if they are forced to keep it up. In short, there is no pedagogical evidence that it is the correct approach, but this doesn’t stop Williamson saying as much to the Education Select Committee.
Just like in Lockdown 1:0, the number of ignorant commentators, who witter on about education when they know so little, is stressing me out. This is a national crisis – we should all be together on this. I take it out on my brother on Friday night which is unfair. But then again, he is a political advisor so maybe not.
Our approach is for a mixture of pre-recorded teaching videos together with a lot of personalised response and feedback. What you definitely need is the support of parents – they play a pivotal role. This crisis is all about partnership. Just as we are partnering with community groups for the Lunch4All project, so we do with parents for learning. A parent is the primary educator, let’s not forget that. It’s not a screen.
Why this obsession with technology? Sure, it’s a help, but for me we’ve got the focus wrong. Would a child benefit more from a story, read to them by their parents, or more from a set of powerpoint slides delivered via a screen? Obviously, I’m talking from a primary school perspective but I think I know the answer.
One ex-parent calls me on Monday – her daughter, now in Y13, has been accepted at Oxford to read History. Amazing. It can happen, when parents and teachers work together. I can feel the excitement down the phone line.
Tuesday’s assembly is a beauty. After visiting Sierra Leone last week, this week we check in with our own school beehive down in South Wales. We link this to Winnie the Pooh and those beautiful A. A. Milne stories. Next week, we’ll head up to Scotland. We’re certainly doing our bit to keep the Union together.
We are levelling out at around 80 pupils each day, but with many of these pupils having special educational needs, we’ve a lot of staff on site. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do, but we haven’t really got any choice. There really needs to be some direction. It was acknowledged at a headteachers’ meeting on Thursday, as unions are talking about an arbitrary cap of 15 in a class. Mr Williamson, please do not leave this to the last minute again! One of my classes is now touching 20 pupils. We will end up opening schools by default (and maybe that is what the strategy is?)
If we are to remain partially closed after half-term, surely the best approach would be a rota system. All pupils get a chance of some classroom teaching, parents get a break, pupils get some time with their friends, and teachers are only doing what they’re doing now. It would take a few days to organise, so please give us the time.
Saturday is spent beating the snow to get my son out of Manchester Airport complete with his PCR negative test. He goes to Prague via Brussels, Frankfurt and Zurich, a Willy-Fogg-esque journey of over thirty hours. But he’s back to university via a screen.
On Sunday, I see Dad on the ward. He’s one of only a few non-Covid patients and I shouldn’t really be there, but between medics and family, we decided it was an emergency – he was sectioned earlier in the week. The nurses give me full PPE, and I spend an hour with him. It’s the physical contact he needs. Isn’t that what we all need? A hug, a kiss, just someone to look you in the face and say that you love them.
So I’ll need to do a lateral flow test tomorrow. Indeed, so will all the staff as this is the latest addition to schools’ management portfolio.
But that’s for next week.