Nobody’s asking anyone to clap for teachers but their incredible efforts to reinvent school deserve better than uninformed public criticism, writes Paul Whiteman
I am at my desk a bit earlier than normal today; it is not quite light and in the background the farming programme has just started on radio 4. I can take some small comfort that I am accompanied by many school leaders and teachers across the country. Many will already be hard at it, facing another day of toil and uncertainty whilst steeling themselves against unwarranted criticism.
Yesterday, Lord Andrew Adonis tweeted to say he’d written to Ofsted chief, Amanda Spielman, concerned that schools are not providing enough online learning. NAHT members, who were just recovering from Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Newsnight suggestion that schools should work evenings and weekends to ‘catch up’ – not to mention the recent Telegraph article suggesting our profession lacks courage – were stung. The last thing they need is blame and criticism.
Teachers have effectively rebuilt our education system from scratch in a matter of weeks in response to a crisis deeper than has been experienced for generations. They have moved mountains in mere moments to support children, their families and their communities. They have remained open for the most vulnerable children and for children of key workers. For those not at school, they have provided a rich mix of support and materials, both online and off.
And providing material is not the whole game. Getting children to interact at a distance is a new discipline. Teaching is hard enough when a child is with you (as may parents have discovered), but it’s a whole other order of complexity when they are not. A 30 per cent take up of online material in the first five weeks of lockdown should be celebrated, not derided. Let’s build on that success, not jump to suggestions that it is failing.
Their care and commitment has not been celebrated
Not that technology alone is the answer in any case, but when the government programme to provide devices and dongles to the poorest finally launches, take up will increase. The facts are that following a decade of austerity there are more children in poverty than ever before and the closure of the disadvantage gap was already slowing, and neither was caused by the teaching profession.
Let’s not pretend that what went before gave us a solid basis for such successful innovation in the face of a crisis. Schools are underfunded, a growing recruitment and retention crisis has meant that we do not have enough teachers in the right places and professionals were already responding to a new inspection framework. School resilience was at a low ebb going into the crisis, and their response to lockdown is worthy of the highest praise.
About 25 per cent of school staff are unable to work due to illness, isolation and shielding. Most wish they were in the fight. The remaining workforce, when not teaching in school or from home, spends its time feeding children in the face of a failed Free School Meals voucher system and checking up on children they are concerned about. Yet their care and commitment to the most vulnerable, and their whole communities has not been celebrated. Not that they’re asking for that, but to snipe at them from the sidelines is unfathomable.
The NAHT will take its place in the discussion at the DfE today about how schools might extend provision when the medical advice supports it. Over 7,500 NAHT members have replied to our consultation about this in just 24 hours and their voice needs to be heard. Overwhelmingly, their responses demonstrate a commitment to keeping children, families and staff safe, together with a desire to find practical solutions to deliver the very best education possible.
Nobody should be questioning the teaching profession’s commitment.
The irony of this article is not lost on me, but this keyboard commentator has thought long before typing. All night, in fact. My appeal to Lord Adonis and anyone else thinking of offering a public opinion is simple: do not take your Covid frustrations out on schools.
They are a vital part of the solution; they are certainly not the problem.