We must continue to support schools to do what they do best
At the moment, our schools, teachers and public services are racing to interpret evolving guidance, support their communities and protect their staff.
They are doing an outstanding job and deserve our unequivocal backing. It is their duty to cope with the current moment and I can think of no one better to do it.
I have a great deal of sympathy for not only schools, parents and young people concerned about their futures during this time, but also with officials and ministers trying to plan for unforeseen circumstances while giving timely information. There are times when you have got to make decisions and figure out the detail later – but, as they themselves have been clear, it is the frontline that bears the burden.
This is why headteachers that form our national schools forum have published a letter to the Secretary of State calling for immediate action to protect children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
It is also already possible to discern some of the long-term consequences of the partial closure of our schools.
First, they will rightly remain open to support the most vulnerable young people and the children of key workers. But this burden will not be evenly distributed. Some schools will be working harder than others, putting more strain on staff, resources and facilities.
Second, we need to make sure grades are fair for all despite no exams this summer. We know predicted grades are often lower than final results for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. And if predictions are based on past performance, this may disadvantage rapidly improving ‘turnaround’ schools.
We need to make sure grades are fair for all despite no exams this summer
Third, as children spend an extended time at home, the gaps between rich and poor will widen. Most children will be heading to loving and protective homes; but some of those homes can afford tutors, online courses, extra-curricular activities; others cannot. Many of them can afford internet connections and good laptops to permit online learning; a surprising number cannot.
And sadly not every home is as safe as we would wish. Some children will be going hungry and others heading into danger.
Schools get this and are acting. They are planning to feed young people; they are rustling up laptops and preparing online materials. They’ll be checking up and they’ll be planning catch ups for when things get back to normal. What else can we do to help them? Unless we step up behind them, the gap in achievement and opportunity between the rich and poor will widen. And this seems counter to the spirit of our times.
For the wider community, don’t wade in with generic offers. Every school is different. Ask them what they need and then find it. So far we’ve seen a huge surge of creativity and support from teachers, school leaders and social enterprises developing online learning materials for pupils and connecting with one another to share these freely. What schools and pupils need now is connection and kit to make use of those materials, which is where many businesses could step up with spare resources and expertise they have. If you think you can help, please get in touch with us.
As we look to the future and plan how we as a country will bounce back, teachers will be at the heart of that recovery. Our efforts to make sure schools in challenging circumstances have the teachers and leaders they need will not stop and we remain committed to finding talented people who choose to teach where they can make the greatest difference. And we will make sure they are supported and ready to go into classrooms.
Let us all hope more people will be inspired to join the ranks of a profession doing such important work to protect and support some of the most vulnerable young people in the country. It shows how vital it is we keep our focus on building a fair education for all.
Let us all hope more people will be inspired to join the ranks of a profession doing such important work
In the longer term, it is clear that, although we should have the same high expectations for every child, whatever their background, it is simply the case that some schools already have to do more than others to meet those expectations, and they will have to work harder still during and after this crisis.
We should continue to fund schools based on the challenges their pupils face, weighting funding towards schools serving disadvantaged communities. We should make sure that these schools get first access to teachers and professional development, which are their most precious resources. This is our priority at Teach First.
By the time we’re through, many institutions will have tried things they once thought impossible and dropped things they once thought essential. They’ll keep some of what they tried and they won’t miss some of what they stopped. What opportunities now await us to do things differently and slant the system in favour of those who are most vulnerable? To drop some baggage and lighten the load? History seems to show that the appetite for radical reform and fairness gets stronger after a crisis. History also shows there’s a prize for those who can ride ahead of that wave.