Last week, even as the PM was going into intensive care, journalists and commentators were already demanding details of the strategy and timing for exit from lockdown. And the clamour has only grown since then.
Such silly speculation comes far too early. Nonetheless, this unprecedented (that word again) period has already changed many societal attitudes. So, here are 10 things that may feel very different for schools and teachers at the other end of the tunnel.
1. Parents complain less and…
Parents obliged to take up the burden of teaching their own have discovered that it’s not easy. Perhaps that inflexible teacher wasn’t the problem after all? Maybe it was their offspring kicking off?
2. …do a bit more
Meanwhile some, quick to complain about online teaching, made the uncomfortable discovery that the teaching would have been fine, albeit different, if they’d only got the little darling out of bed and logged on.
3. Home education isn’t just for weirdos
No longer branded the escapist ploy of hippies, weirdos and abusers, it’s now respected as a brave and tough option.
4. Tech vs face-to-face teaching
Use of technology for learning has taken a great leap forward during the crisis. But, before policymakers decide to save zillions of pounds by abolishing school buildings, let’s be clear: children need both/and, not either/or. Pupils currently miss the human dimension, face to face, in the same room; and they miss the in-school care, pastoral and physical, that’s been too often undervalued – until now. Hats off to the heroes keeping that going through lockdown.
5. Teachers are trusted and…
Trusted? It’s almost impossible to believe, after three decades of governments mistrusting teachers, checking up on them and taking exam responsibilities off them. But, with this year’s public exams cancelled, candidates can gain qualifications only if teachers are trusted to grade them. Teachers may have to relearn habits and practices removed from them – but, hey, they’re professionals. This could usher in a brave new world in which they can once more innovate and experiment, and in which…
6. …inspection is paused and reset
The law of perverse incentives declares teachers cannot grade candidates objectively if their own jobs depend on those marks. This is a game changer. Ofsted won’t judge schools on 2020 results, while calls are growing for inspection to be paused in 2020-21. This is a need and a real chance, long overdue, to review and reset the accountability regime.
7. Science and scientists are valued
Government has wisely surrounded itself with experts in this crisis: another turnaround. Scientists and the medics we applaud weekly are now respected instead of being rubbished. So maybe more kids in school will want to study science and follow careers that “make a difference”. Particularly if science teachers are trusted and resourced to do practicals and all the exciting stuff again – those smells and explosions never did us oldies any harm.
8. Handwashing is de rigeur
When norovirus swept the country a few years ago, schools pushed kids (and adults) to wash and sanitise their hands. If good habits learned during this much more severe health crisis persist, infections and bugs will be reduced in schools and public places.
9. We love the BBC again
Before Covid-19, the pernicious campaign against the BBC and its licence fee was gaining traction at an alarming rate. Auntie has provided more objective information about the virus and responses to it than, I reckon, any other network, and produced unprecedented (that word again!) quantities of educational materials. Hey, it even advanced screening of its adaptation of Malory Towers! Public-service broadcasting has received the fillip it desperately needed.
10. Kindness rules
Children writing letters to isolated strangers and neighbours. Young people in supermarkets surrendering their hard-won pasta to old folks, saying, “You need this more”. Acts of generosity to key workers from people of all ages. All those worthy, uplifting assembly talks are coming true! In contrast to the past few miserable years of political backbiting and societal division, this surely furnishes hope for the future, and for our children above all.
Bernard Trafford is a writer, educationalist, musician and former independent school headteacher