School closures are a catalyst for much-needed reform

9 Apr 2020, 9:00

Closures have revealed the inadequacies of our school system and are causing us to rethink what we value. Are we ready to be the change we want to see? asks Alice Barnard

In a matter of weeks the world and our lives as we know them have changed. We’ve seen the call for engineers to produce ventilators, supermarkets staff working around the clock to keep shelves restocked, the NHS preparing for unprecedented levels of medical need and key workers being asked to step up to keep things moving so people can get to work and urgent deliveries can be made.

While the country and our economy have been grinding to a halt, schools have carried on. Like little islands of predictability in a sea of chaos. Teaching has continued and children have carried on learning. Even though schools are closed, they are still playing a key role in supporting our communities and offering vulnerable children a place of safety.

Through the noise and uncertainty few things are clear. However, what really matters and what we actually need in order to survive have been brought into sharp focus. Health, family and friends, a safe place to seek refuge, food and er… loo roll. Along with that, we are having to rethink what work we value and how we value it.

This crisis could be the catalyst that forces us to bend rather than to break

Concepts that were previously unthinkable are now our reality. But look at what we are capable of. Parents are helping their children cover their school work at home, huge numbers are working from home and we are finding new ways to communicate with colleagues, friends and loved ones. The older generation are using technology to place food orders, communicate with their family and arrange their doctor appointments online. We are all forging new routines and learning new skills not because we want to, but because we have to. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s necessary to help us meet the demands of the current situation.

But do we really need a crisis to prove to ourselves how flexible we can be, as individuals and as a society? And while stability has been a strength for schools in the past weeks, the same hasn’t been true of the school system. So could now be a good time to overhaul it and make it work for the 21st Century?

For those who will not take their SATS, GCSEs or A Levels we will need to understand the ways we can measure their talent and potential to award grades. But once we’ve done that, why go back? Could exams be jettisoned forever?

Through digitising our work and taking it home, we’ve seen first-hand that the global, digital economy demands a completely different set of skills, competencies and aptitudes. We’re also coming to see sharply that what makes a school day is often what’s left most implicit about it – socialisation and character development.

Both teachers and employers recognise that the Government’s 19th century curriculum is simply not fit for purpose to prepare young people for life in the 21st century. So let’s change it. And while we’re at it, is our progression model – towards careers and higher education – really valuing and delivering what society needs?

I’m hopeful that this situation will teach us important lessons about the value of our communities and everyone’s place in the bigger picture. It’s not the CEOs, the bankers or legal professions who are leading us right now. It’s the least valued professions that we are turning to. The people who we fail to recognise and reward are the very ones we are relying on to sustain us

The way we respond to the challenges the pandemic presents will be an example to young people and a life lesson in resilience. If that’s what we really want to build in our children then we have to be prepared to model it, and to do that we must recognise the important difference between resilience and rigidity. This crisis could be the catalyst that forces us to bend rather than to break. After all, even if we could go back to ‘normal’ after this, do we really want to?

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One comment

  1. Rowan Haines

    Think a few of us supposedly “Elective” Home Educators will have a lot to say about this.

    Those of us with kids who have been forced out of school due to their failings and now have to support our kids, as a result, have a lot to say to LEAs and the Govt in particular regarding the situation described by the writer above, and frankly, I think this article shows just how much needs to change. How can you have a whole group of kids on the Autistic spectrum being pushed out of school because there isn’t enough money? At the risk of being lynched, you either share the educational cost between all special needs parents (not just those who have the resilience and or finances to fight in court), or you start considering personal budgets and funding respite for children with more complex physical, educational and emotional needs again and share some of the support with children who are being forced out due to not looking disabled enough.

    School has been treated as ‘childcare’ for too long for too many in this country, least of all the current govt, who force Mums out into the workforce as soon as they have given birth, and this means those with invisible disabilities are suffering the most. We need Educational reform / equality in this country and we need it now.