'Nothing stops spring': A path from crisis to recovery

Schools have achieved extraordinary feats in response to coronavirus - let's celebrate that, writes Leora Cruddas

Leora Cruddas

Coronavirus: Just like the emergence of spring, we will emerge from this crisis, writes Leora Cruddas

In the education sector, we have been focused relentlessly for the last two weeks on responding to the Covid-19 crisis. There is still much to do in the short term, including developing a national free school meals solution, keeping schools open over the Easter holidays and working out the arrangements for awarding qualifications. However, it is also important that we start to think about the path from crisis to recovery.

In the medium and longer term we need to build resilience and plan for recovery in at least four areas: children, young people and families; schools and education institutions; communities; and the wider system.

Coronavirus: Children, young people and families

Where they can be safe, keeping children at home is undoubtedly the right thing to do. In many ways, this creates a time for families to work, learn and play together – a time in which families can come together as stronger units. 

But it will also place stresses on families. For some, there will sadly be bereavement. For others, living with a family member who can be violent or abusive, the stress of being together all the time may create an increase in domestic violence. We are also likely to see a significant increase in mental ill-health – particularly among those who are forced to self-isolate alone. 

So we need to be planning how to support individuals and families in these circumstances. How do we help with bereavement? How do we create safe environments for those who may need to flee domestic violence or support children who witness it? How do we ensure that we have enough mental health support?

And how will we deal with the significant increase in child poverty that we are likely to see for months and years ahead?

Communities

On a larger scale, the same is true of communities. We need to build resilience in communities and help communities be part of the recovery effort. Already we are seeing extraordinary examples of this, with people volunteering to support the most vulnerable in their communities and those who are self-isolating.

It is possible that new social norms will emerge that mean we take better care of each other and the most vulnerable in our communities.

Schools and education institutions

Schools are managing in extraordinary conditions to cater for the most vulnerable and the children of key workers. This is most definitely business as unusual. Within a few days of the announcement that schools would partially close – or rather that they would remain partially open to perform a very different function – we saw leaders quickly make these arrangements without fuss or complaint. Of course, there is fear – but we have seen this come with the courage to do it anyway. 

We all have concerns about the cancellation of exams – but it is hard to see how a different decision could have been arrived at. Now we wait guidance from Ofqual, the exams regulator, about the process for awarding grades. This will undoubtedly involve a huge effort from teachers.

While our efforts will be focused here, we also need to think about pupils in Years 5, 10 and 12. These are pupils whose national tests and exams are unlikely to be cancelled next academic year. Yet they will have missed a significant amount of time in school – possibly more than a term. For Years 10 and 12, this is a significant amount (possibly as much as 20 per cent) of their programme of study that would normally have taken place in a school environment.

Of course, teachers will continue this period to support children and young people to continue to learn – we are finding new ways all the time of doing this – maintaining the curriculum. But it is unlikely to be as effective as direct teaching, certainly for some groups of children.

And we need to think about the resilience of our workforce and how we prepare to reopen schools.

How do we make sure we manage the admissions process for September and the right of parents to appeal against the decision to allocate a particular school place for their child? How do recruit teachers and other staff so that we have the right workforce in place? And where we are seeing construction companies stop work, how do we make sure we have sufficient school places where new schools or additional building on school sites are currently under construction?

Inspections have been suspended. At what point and how do we begin to start that process again?

These questions may feel far off, but they are not. They need our time and attention.

System resilience and recovery

Local and national systems have shown remarkable resilience in the face of the pandemic. But we also need to look at long-term resilience.

How and when do people start going back to work? What does this mean for schools as more parents start to return to work? Will we need long-term changes to the welfare system to cope with the increase in poverty? 

We may want to think about how we can use the new ways of working and begin to change the world forever. This may finally be the wake-up call to collective action on another global threat to life – the climate emergency. 

The tenacity of the human spirit

What we know from periods of global stress is that the human spirit prevails. This is a global historical event, and I think it would be really helpful if we (by that I mean families, communities, schools and society) could document the ways in which we are responding – the ways in which the human spirit prevails, the stories of kindness, love and hope that are everywhere. 

Last week, I left my house for my daily run around the park and my neighbours – twin six-year-old boys whose school had given them a box of chalk – had created a beautiful chalk image on the pavement showing the growth and renewal of nature all around us. In the centre of their image were the words "Nothing can stop spring".

So, in this time when we are at home together or for those of us working in schools, let’s create some social documentaries, some video diaries perhaps, showing the tenacity of the human spirit – hope, renewal and the affirmation of life. This too will pass.

Leora Cruddas is the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts

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