It might be said that one of the most quotable quotes of the 20th century came from Zhou Enlai, who was the first Premier of the Peoples’ Republic of China from 1949 until his death.
When asked about the influence of the French Revolution, the late Premier is reputed to have said it was, “Too early to say”.
Somehow, coming as it did from China’s foremost diplomat, it sounded profound. It became an example of the patient and far-sighted nature of Chinese leaders who thought in centuries, as opposed to the short-termism of Western democratic politicians.
(There is another interpretation which connects his response to a very different question. It is said he was apparently not commenting on the French Revolution of 1789 at all, but the much more recent French students’ revolts in 1968).
The most frequent question fired at me currently is: “What has been the impact of Covid-19 on prep schools?” I am tempted to respond as Zhou Enlai did in the 1960s. Born of a sceptical nature, I feel often in posing the question that I am being asked to dwell on the negative, but actually the positives are more apparent in many ways.
“Despite prophesies of collapse of the sector, less than 1 per cent of our membership has closed for good citing Covid as the cause.”
What we know is that IAPS schools have shown remarkable resilience under very adverse conditions. Despite prophesies of collapse of the sector from some quarters, less than 1 per cent of our membership has closed its doors for good citing Covid as the cause. Time will tell though if the undoubted financial hit our schools have taken will be terminal for more.
Our membership showed themselves to be capable of making adroit decisions which were right for their schools. The move to online learning was a journey of discovery down a path which many had pondered as an option, but few had actually taken the first step along it before January 2020.
Some heads entered the first period of lockdown seeking advice from IAPS on what to do next. They then double checked this by referencing government advice which, in turn, they found changed rapidly and was vague or, if we’re kinder to them, highly generalised.
Faced with this, heads were forced to be bold and those who got the idea from day one that being an independent school head means you can act decisively in the best interests of your children and school without waiting to be told what to do, were steadily joined by the rest.
The message from IAPS HQ was to be bold, positive and nimble and members came to welcome this as a release.
“The advocates for the future of education being based on staring at a screen have had their vision very definitely unpicked for them.”
Communication with parents has always been an important task for any head and any school. New default forms of communication came to the fore. Who would have thought that many parents would prefer a “virtual” parents’ evening when they did not have to dash from work, struggle to find car parking space, queue for ages and risk having their conversation overheard by the next adult in the queue? Will all such meetings return to face-to-face?
At IAPS and elsewhere, we have also learnt that there is no place like school for children to grow and develop in so many different ways. The advocates for the future of education being based on staring at a screen have had their vision very definitely unpicked for them. Interaction, pupil with pupil, teacher with learners and vice versa, has been emphasised as a valued and essential relationship for children’s growth.
There have been negatives, of course. In general, well-being of staff and children has been set back. How quickly ground can be recovered will vary with each individual. Scars left in instances where Covid-19 has claimed lives or caused long term health deterioration will be difficult, if not impossible, to heal. However, it is too early to see the true picture of what the impact of it all has been.