Gym membership, keeping to a diet, making 2022 the year you actually reach the last page of Ulysses? I’m giving all these a wide berth and focusing on just one: making the coming 12 months a “can-do” year.
This time last year schools were about to begin the new academic year – and then we had to close with what seemed like 10 minutes’ notice. That’s not going to happen this year.
Politicians will be talking about the what-ifs and the problems, but the vast majority of teachers just want to get on with it. Of course there will be challenges, but we’ve spent the last two years becoming experts in adjustment and pragmatism. In making things work whatever the obstacles.
“We have adapted, and we’ll adapt again.”
Testing and mask-wearing is a major topic of debate. But students have been testing twice a week for many, many months. And we’ve become expert in additional levels of protection: viral cleaning, one-way systems, additional ventilation, student bubbles. We have adapted, and we’ll adapt again.
The children I meet as I walk around the school display a sense of hope and an irresistible energy about life. They’re used to having to adapt and deal with difficult situations. Of course, there will be children who are more anxious than others and for some mask-wearing during lessons will trigger mental health issues. But on the whole, our young people are used to living life in the grip of a pandemic. For them, there’s a type of normality about it that eludes adults. The children would much rather be in school in a mask than not in school at all.
The new Government measures for this term aren’t mandated, leaving the way open to exemptions and adjustments where needed. But political and media debate has not given sufficient attention to the extra difficulties or differences of those in the special needs, or to the primary and college sectors, vital parts of our education system which too often get forgotten.
I’m not trying to underplay the extent of the challenges that lie ahead for schools and those who work in them.
We will face disruption in travel, supplies, and staffing across the board, from teachers to the drivers who bring the children to school, teaching assistants and catering staff. But businesses, shops and hospitals – all of society, in fact – will be finding things difficult.
“I’m not trying to underplay the extent of the challenges that lie ahead for schools.”
But I’ve seen more educational innovation in the last 18 months than in the previous 30 years of my school career. We will use technology in lessons so some can access learning from home while others will be present in the classroom. We will consider adapting the timetable if needs be and amending our way of working. That might mean a Covid-struck teacher teaching from home while their students are in the classroom.
Above all, let’s get rid of education’s own version of “cancel culture”. Last year, we harnessed technology so that a Model United Nations Conference could include representatives from around the world rather than just the UK, as was the case in “normal” times when it was held face to face. It isn’t about cancelling a school show; it is about making it into a feature film and giving the children a “First Night Premiere” experience. Rather than cancel school trips, it is about camping and learning bushcraft in Britain when overseas travel has to be ruled out.
In the teaching profession, we can identify solutions, not just spot problems.
Adaptation has to be the name of the game because anything is better than another lockdown. When we close schools we lock out not only the children, but their future life chances. We know that it is a price that our young people will be paying for generations to come.
“We will find a way; it is what teachers do.”
This is not about ignoring risk and of course we must adapt in the face of the challenges of a global pandemic posing some of the greatest challenges of my lifetime. We will find a way; it is what teachers do. And we’re better placed now than a year, or two years ago because we managed to find a way to come through those extremely difficult, unprecedented, times.
But one thing is clear. Whatever the strengths of technology, there is no substitute for the community children and adults coming together, forging life-long friendships and learning about themselves and the world.
Children only get once chance at an education. We’ll find a way to ensure they get what’s rightfully theirs; it’s what we do.