Schools know that they do way more than just education

Parents understand that what a school gives its pupils goes way beyond an academic education - perhaps because of coronavirus the powers that be will begin to grasp that fact too

Jo Brighouse

school support staff

It’s the second week of the Easter holidays and we have reached a lockdown phase which I am calling “acceptance” (but might well be denial). School is still open: I’ve driven along deserted roads to spend a day painting Easter eggs and to be thrashed at basketball by a seven-year-old, but the emails have stopped pinging.  

At home, education has taken a well-earned break.

I am operating a policy of what my mum would call “healthy neglect”. Over Easter weekend, even Mr Brighouse downed laptop to join us in our education-free zone.

Technically, two adults not working should equal more parental attention. In reality, we both use each other’s availability as an excuse to knock off duty. I teach the younger child to make himself breakfast on the basis that a kitchen covered in Frosties and spilt milk is a small price to pay for an extra hour in bed. I mute those friends most likely to send pictures of their children’s Easter crafts and we leave our two to discover their inner creativity untainted by parental intervention.

If boredom is the mother of creativity, then it seems we still have some way to go. The kids have clearly inherited my high threshold. They spend the day watching back-to-back episodes of You’ve Been Framed before spending a few hours trying to get on to the show via various elaborately constructed scenarios involving a climbing frame, assorted garden toys and the cat. 

Maybe creativity can wait. The general consensus is that the key thing for children right now is to keep them safe (and as happy as possible). This is easier done with your own than with the ones in school, some of whom I can not, hand on heart, guarantee will be either of these things despite everyone’s best efforts.

While no one knows when we will return to a life more ordinary, this doesn’t stop endless speculation. Almost every day there is a call from some quarter to re-open schools sooner rather than later (whether these requests spring from scientific data or a desperate desire to get the kids from under everyone’s feet is unclear).

What needs to change

There is also talk of things having to change when we do go back. Of rethinking what it is we value in education. In all honesty, I don’t think it’s the schools that need to do this. Schools already value the good stuff. They value kindness. They value social responsibility and teamwork. They value every pupil regardless of academic ability in the same way that we now recognise the refuse collectors, the shelf stackers, the carers and the senior doctors, laden with their academic qualifications, are all vital parts of a whole. They value, in short, all the things that are getting us through this crisis.

What really needs to shift is the way others view us. If parents can understand that what a school gives a child goes way beyond an academic education then surely those who have power (and funding) over us can grasp it too.

There needs to be recognition for the way school leaders have been tested like never before and not found wanting. The same headteachers damned by Ofsted for failing to turn around the data in an allotted timescale are currently working miracles to make sure their school stays open for children who need it most, checking on the most vulnerable pupils, battling with a half-baked system to deliver food vouchers, overseeing (and often inventing) home learning systems and generally busting a gut to do everything they can for children, staff and parents.  

These are not small achievements. In terms of value, they are priceless.

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