A plea for a new compassionate system of schooling
Teachers have to adapt to a world where they recognise that they need children and not the other way around.
Should this be the end for schooling? Certainly it will never be the same again; and here I suggest that the system of disciplining the child cannot be the same again.
Em. prof. Wilf Carr, from the University of Sheffield, foresaw the end of schooling as a modern phenomenon. He suggested that schools would have to adapt or perish because in the age of online learning platforms schools that don’t recognise this in the post Covid-19 world, whenever the schools return, will inevitably lose out.
The C19 isolation demonstrates that children can cope, and some very well, in a world without schools. At least more than many of us thought they might. Understandably, and rightly so, schools and teachers have received praise from social commentators and online opinion pieces about how crucial they are to our communities; and they are. It is not the “what” that needs to change necessarily but the “how”. The how becomes important because children are not robots. They have rights and a voice. The recent Climate change strikes, who remembers them, testify to that and that was before the Covid-19 outbreak. New research in Planetary Health Studies, points to a link, with our human incursion into the natural world and the outbreak of the Coronavirus. That those two things may be related is of course interesting, but not surprising, anymore than how prescient the children’s voices were at the time of the strikes?
The role of schools in offering childcare to key workers and so called vulnerable children is evidence of how schools can be a force for good and not just in producing exam fodder. But some schools do need to adapt to the post C19 world. It is no longer good enough to carry on, as some academies do, ‘flattening the grass’ each day, exercising dubious claims to morality over governing the length of a child’s hair, their piercings or when and where they can wear their coats. Assistant Heads could allow themselves to relax and let children walk around the school and chat to their friends. Enforced demands for silence don’t have to suffocate or prevent thinking or discussion any more. Silence can be golden; it can be used for quiet reflection, never more have we needed a generation of reflective thinkers. It doesn’t have to be a weapon to terrify children anymore. No one whispers when they are allowed to speak.
It isn’t alright to dump a week’s worth of online worksheets and past papers in Google classroom and call that learning and then decry the “20% who haven’t bothered to reply to me”. It isn’t learning. And it isn’t compassionate. Some children are social learners, they like to talk to each other. They can discuss - get this, what they’ re doing. Being couped up in their bedrooms for longer than they spend at school without regulated breaks isn’t good, it is harmful for children. Breaks, free periods, and play are essential too, and children need to play indoors on Xbox and outdoors in streets.
Who else has noticed that children have been allowed to play in the streets again? Chalk drawings, hopscotch and rainbows have all emerged in the hands of children – colour has appeared on the streets, as well as birdsong, particularly in the first 2 weeks of lockdown.
We hope to gain funding to commission new research that may highlight a link between being locked down and increased levels stress of stress in children. What we don’t yet know is how many children actually want to go back to school? And how much does the prospect of going back to school add to children’s stress levels? Why would anyone want to go back to a place that compares them usually negatively with others?
In this period of isolation how many children have been made to feel bad about themselves when it comes to their education? They haven’t been compared to others, and brought up short, they haven’t been put in sets and lockdown means that they haven’t been perceived by others to have failed. At least until the privatised exam boards come up with an opaque formula for assessment in the summer. No one I know describes their own children as of ‘low ability’ and they haven’t been shamed as badly behaved. From what can we exclude or suspend children? They can’t be excluded and we’ re all Not in Education, Employment and there is no Training now. Let’s not allow the myths that children benefit from setting, or exclusion to return.
We can’t put children in isolation booths anymore, thanks Mr Bennett, because now we all know what isolation really feels like. Don’t ever let’s see a child suffer in an isolation booth again post Covid-19.
Some schools are going to prioritise those children with examinations but if we can stagger the intake, if some primary year groups can return earlier to help the children, rightly, with their transition to secondary, can we also show the same compassion for those children in later years struggling with exam preparation? The children in years 12, 10 and 9 deserve much more compassion, a chance to be allowed to have found lockdown a period of uncertainty, worry and loss. Not told off for not knowing that they now have to learn Microsoft Office Outlook and respond to their teachers as adults in an office might.
And please don’t tell me that my son has to come ‘home’ from his bedroom and tell me he’s just had some emails he has to answer before he can go and play keepy uppy in the garden. He’s 14. He has the rest of his life to worry about emails.