Catch-up quick fixes disregard school staff needs

Talk of lengthening the school day or reconfiguring the calendar to help students make up for lost education time is misguided. What teachers and pupils really need is a break
12th February 2021, 12:00am
Catch-up Quick Fixes Disregard School Staff Needs

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Catch-up quick fixes disregard school staff needs

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/catch-quick-fixes-disregard-school-staff-needs

It is now more than a year since the first Tes articles about the coronavirus pandemic were published. Yet, way back in February 2020, Covid-19 still seemed like a distant peal of thunder here in Scotland. At that stage, it didn't feel - even if dispassionate scrutiny of data might have persuaded you otherwise - as if the pandemic would lead to a seismic change in Scottish schools.

A sense of urgency wasn't likely to be fuelled by memories of how Sars and swine flu never amounted (relatively) to all that much on these shores, and, 12 months ago, "it's no worse than the flu" became a common mantra, with all the prescience of those music journalists who dismissed the Beatles as a flash in the pan.

As people came back from February minibreaks in Italy and Spain with tales of having their temperature taken at the airport by phalanxes of officials in protective suits, a sense of unease started rippling through the country. Soon, there was talk of schools having to close for "a bit", although news bulletins were still more concerned about the damage that might be wreaked by the panic-buying of toilet roll and baked beans.

Now, a year on, it feels like we have been through several stages of the pandemic. From that initial sense of something distant and unreal, to the growing mood of foreboding, to the strange euphoria mingling amid the trauma of the first lockdown, to the dismay at the resurgence of Covid to, now, a dawning realisation that normality may still be some way off (if we can ever truly get back to something approaching pre-pandemic life).

The relentlessness of it all is proving hard to bear: the remote learning, the separation from loved ones, the sheer bloody boredom all stretching ahead for no one knows how long. Beneath the overriding sense of inertia, however, lockdown is a complex and often bewildering experience, which will not be resolved by a simple reversion to how things were or by apparently simple solutions.

In education, certainly, we should be wary of quick fixes. There has been much talk lately of lengthening the school day or reconfiguring the annual calendar to make up for the disruption of Covid, as if children are receptacles and we just need to keep the educational tap flowing for a bit longer to refill them to our satisfaction.

Judging by the reaction of teachers, this is an idea that they are - at best - deeply sceptical about. Indeed, as some have argued, the Scottish government's oft-stated aim of closing the attainment gap might actually be undermined by such a move, as the pupils who coped best - and had the most support at home - during lockdown may also cope far better with longer hours.

There is a creeping pressure being applied on school staff to work more to help pupils "catch up" (as if they never work out of hours already), ignoring an obvious irony: if ever there were a crucial time for proper rest and recuperation, it is in the midst of a global crisis.

Yes, Covid is piling up myriad headaches for education but these will not be resolved by education professionals (or pupils) working to breaking point. Let's not dismiss downtime as a luxury for more settled times: it is a critical component of a healthy working life and, goodness knows, it has already shrunk drastically in the past year.

So it's not being flippant when - as many school staff head into their February break - we say: please, try to forget about work for at least some of this long weekend. Whatever floats your boat - whether it's sledging or sudoku, Netflix or knitting, football or flower arranging - find time for it. It's not self-indulgent to take a break; it should be an integral part of any empathetic and properly functioning workplace.

@Henry_Hepburn

This article originally appeared in the 12 February 2021 issue under the headline "Catch-up quick fixes pile pressure on a staff desperate for downtime"

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