“Catching up” post COVID

Excellent advice from Richard Howard, Former Principal Education Adviser for Oxfordshire 16/03/21

This has not been a good time for children and young people. There has been no time like it
since the second World War. To be deprived of school is something that most of us have
never experienced whether as parents or pupils. But, there are shoots of good fortune to
nourish and to look forward to a time when learning and development, for all, will be at the
forefront of all that which we aspire to.

Teachers’ responses to this degree of lockdown have been magnificent and have created,
potentially, a whole new way of learning. The development of ‘on-line learning’ has
advanced to an extent where young people have access to knowledge and to worlds
hitherto unknown or unexplored. In terms of primary schools, parents have been left
wondering about the real, or even valid, values about the grammar (‘the Ablative ?’)
in the sentences that their children write or the algebraic calculations that they have to
complete and, where they have secondary school students, why their reading has been so
curtailed to deny so many other cultures or why their knowledge of the world has not
allowed opportunities for research on the implications of climate change.

Many parents, whatever ages their children might be, have struggled to ‘keep up’ with what
is being required during this lockdown period. And, it is not their fault, not the fault of
teachers and certainly not any learning shortcomings of their children. It is to do with
creating a curriculum for learning that never was for the benefit of children and young
people. It was to do with satisfying, or seeking to satisfy, a minority who believed that the
‘prep-school’ curriculum (presumably) suitable for the privileged few in the 1950s was
satisfactory for all those who were at school in the 21 st century. For example, was the
requirement to read only those texts that related to English novels or to study History that,
by defect, ignored the unwarranted exploitation of alternative ways of life.

In a way, and in many ways, lockdown has challenged all these insular and deficit
requirements created some 10 years ago, and occasions before that, of the ways in which
children and young people should learn and grow. We seem to have learned, again, the
value of the arts, of drama, of music, of learning outside of the classroom, of investigating
artefacts from our past and from other cultures and ways of living. It shouldn’t just be, or
can’t be, about catching up on ‘your spellings’ or your list of dates.

What a parent said on BBC a few days ago “just let them enjoy the playground” resonates at
this time. It is about joining up again with friends; about talking together again; about
having jokes and recollections and mucking about. This is the real ‘Catch-up’. But, it is also
about the values that underlie why we educate our young. It is about Resilience, Concern for
Others, Joy in Gathering Together, Making Friends, Sharing Confidences, Doubts and
Triumphs. It is about the Values we share and need, more than ever, to share more widely.
It is about the life we lead and that we might, and have responsibility to do so, to pass on.