Let's stop comparing ourselves with other schools

Online learning has led to comparisons between schools – but each has its own unique circumstances, says Michael Tidd
25th January 2021, 1:18pm
Michael Tidd

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Let's stop comparing ourselves with other schools

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/lets-stop-comparing-ourselves-other-schools
Coronavirus School Closures: Let's Stop Comparing Schools' Online Learning, Says Headteacher Michael Tidd

Why aren't you doing more to support the children from your classes who are trying to learn from home? Are your families being shortchanged by what you're offering? Because, if you're honest, you could be doing more, couldn't you?

These are not questions I'm asking of you, but rather ones that I bet you've asked of yourself in the past three weeks. 

Having been thrown into this chaos at short notice, with ever-changing goalposts, it's almost universal: no sooner have we got ourselves a vague plan of what we're doing, than we start to ask ourselves whether we should be doing something more.

I don't think this is unique to pandemics, incidentally; it's a fairly common trend throughout the profession, from trainees to old-timers. We look at the classroom next door and wonder whether our displays are up to scratch, whether we should be doing something more whizzy with our lessons and, just as commonly, whether we can ever aspire to be as good.

Online learning: Highlighting the differences between schools

The past few weeks have highlighted the differences between our schools and made them all very public. Comparisons are quickly and frequently drawn, and the question too often asked is: why aren't all schools doing X?

But nobody is interested in the answers, are they? Maybe one school is offering live lessons all day for its Year 1 pupils, but does anyone ask whether they're all able to attend? Or whether the lessons are any good? Or how stressful it is for parents trying to keep up with it while also balancing their jobs, other children and getting the washing done?

Yes, some schools might be knocking out a solid four hours of lessons for every junior pupil, along with interactive quizzes, an online cookery club run by the headteacher, and celebrity introductions to every lesson. 

But there'll also be other schools desperately trying to staff their on-site provision, while worrying about the increasing number of colleagues off isolating, or worse. 

There'll be schools where every spare moment is spent not compiling a montage of home highlights but chasing up social workers, attending core group meetings and desperately trying to get food to the family in temporary accommodation.

No sense in comparing ourselves with others

Some schools will have whole teams sharing out the work, while others will have single teachers trying to keep on top of the day job, while also providing feedback on assignments completed on an unfamiliar learning platform, and replying to emails from baffled parents at the end of their wits.

The circumstances in which we all find ourselves are unique. Our schools, our staff, our pupils and families, our technology, our key-worker numbers - even the catering arrangements have an impact. So there is no sense in trying to compare ourselves with others.

The big industries that have sent staff home to work have simply taken desk jobs and relocated the desks; in schools, the whole job of teaching has been tipped on its head - and we're still open to a third of pupils. 

Those big businesses add warnings to their websites and phone lines: because of Covid, you might not get the service you're used to. Schools still have to offer the same service as usual, and then a whole new layer on top.

So, yes, maybe you could be doing more, and maybe you soon will be able to, if this situation rolls on as it appears it might. But, for now, you can bet your set-up is a lot better now than you'd ever have thought a year ago. 

So, rather than focusing on what you haven't done yet, take a moment to appreciate what your team has achieved.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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