Education has been central to the national Covid conversation since the first lockdown a year ago. Many who normally wouldn’t spare a thought for schooling weighed in on how to answer the innumerable issues that teaching during a pandemic brings. Cancelled exams, free school meals and reopening schools were problems to be debated – then, it seemed, resolved with back-of-the-envelope solutions.
And these solutions on how to "catch up" are being offered from all quarters. Some suggest we should follow models from other countries such as South Korea by increasing the school day from 8am until 5pm, while others say to get the young people in school over the Easter and summer breaks, since no one’s going on holiday anyway. I’m waiting for someone to propose getting rid of interval and lunch breaks as this would increase classroom time and tackle the obesity problem simultaneously.
All these proposals suggest that this lost learning can be found simply by stretching the available time we have.
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But I would like to offer my own, quite different solution: reset the academic year 2020-21 to zero and start again after the summer, with all pupils repeating this year. Any school managers reading this will immediately be rolling their eyes, worrying about where an extra year group of students would fit. Yet, capacity needn’t be an issue if there is a delayed entry into primary school, putting Scotland in line with many other educationally progressive countries.
At the other end of the primary spectrum, the oldest pupils would have a proper last year of school: week-long excursions, leavers’ assemblies and, of course, completing their education before moving on to secondary.
By simply repeating the year, the myriad inequalities thrown up by remote learning – from non-existent wi-fi in rural Scotland to lack of resources in the cities – would be removed, as everyone would just start again.
As well delivered as remote learning has been, I don’t think anyone would argue that learning has progressed on track as it would have in the classroom. Yet, if we are willing to say that’s OK, let everyone progress upwards anyway, aren’t we devaluing what education is? Surely this suggests that it doesn’t matter if you miss a chunk of learning, you can still get a qualification?
However, turning the clock back will strengthen the learning that the class of 2021 receives, so that, rather than having an invisible question mark next to their name in a future interview, the current students will have had an extra year of learning, turning this negative year into something positive. Not only that, it would reduce the stress older students must be feeling as their assessments approach but they are still locked out of school.
Schools are more than just learning centres and an extra year would allow friendships to rekindle and the resocialisation of young people after a year inside, not to mention the chance to make up for two years of missed opportunities of foreign trips and outdoor centre excursions.
Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher based in Scotland