Globally, the impact of Covid-19 has been truly unprecedented and unforeseen. In all sectors of society, in all nations, the almost immediate, total suspension of everything we know has left many people bewildered, confused, financially unstable and afraid; the ramifications of which may be felt for a generation. For those in the neoliberal educational hamster-wheel of ever-increasing accountability and performativity measures (Ball, 2003), combined with high-stakes testing, diminishing school budgets, rising mental health issues in children (alongside reductions in the provision and remit of support services such as school nurses, social care, educational psychology, and special educational needs), it has given us an opportunity, suggested previously (Coe, 2013), to critically reflect.
But how many of us are doing so?
The international suspension of life as we knew it has afforded us all the prospect of rethinking what we value in, and about, our education system (Benn & Downes, 2016), to evaluate how it is configured, and decide what we take forward into the new world, post Covid-19. We have the potential to reverse the increase of disillusioned teachers finding alternative employment; ‘burnt-out’ school leaders leaving the profession (ASL, 2016); children suffering a plethora of mental health issues; and millions of pounds being wasted annually on inspections and test creation, security, delivery, marking and league table production.
‘We have the potential to reverse the increase of disillusioned teachers finding alternative employment; ‘burnt-out’ school leaders leaving the profession; children suffering a plethora of mental health issues; and millions of pounds being wasted annually on inspections and test creation, security, delivery, marking and league table production.’
Funding for schools could be reworked to be able to support invaluable coaching for staff, as well as training and development; to address imbalances in infrastructure and digital poverty (Holmes & Burgess, 2020), alongside knowledge and understanding of the world for pupils. School curricula could be trauma informed, personalised and creative, not focused on regurgitation of facts, but on assimilating information and engendering a love for learning and collaboration. Innovation, inspiration, age-appropriate character education, equality and social conscience could be embedded (DfE, 2017).
I am not suggesting that children live in a world where their needs and abilities are not assessed by professionals in mathematics and English, merely that it is not for the benefit of the child to perform costly, high-stakes tests for the purpose of creating a competitive league table that inevitably places some schools at an immediate disadvantage (Children, Schools and Families Select Committee , 2008). Equally, I am not suggesting that schools operate in an unregulated way. Headteachers, and by extension teachers, need to be given support and trusted to run schools. Ofsted could be given a different remit, far less intrusive, and based on the context of the school and what staff and the community are doing to try to mitigate or build upon that context to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children they serve.
Accountability could be about how the money per child is being spent and how much support the families and children are given, rather than only on pupil outcomes. Inspection outcomes could be bespoke and celebratory, and grades removed from creating league tables as this current system contains inherent consequences: potential breakdown of the local community as parents strive for children to go to a ‘better’ school away from their friends and home; unhealthy competiveness between colleagues; and an unfair skewing of the funds and standards in groups of local schools.
Should we, as a nation, be questioning our politicians and thinking more effectively about provision for the vulnerable? The Pupil Premium funding has simply not worked as intended (Viner, 2018). Schools receiving a few hundred pounds for the children of families in financial hardship has not had the desired impact, because the reality is that children go home and spend evenings, weekends, holidays with their families. They spend a maximum of 1,330 hours in schools a year; the influence a school can have is limited in isolation, because the other 7,430 hours are beyond the reach and influence of a school. But situated within a range of other services that have been eradicated, such as children’s centres and youth clubs, collaboratively we could provide year-round opportunities to broaden horizons, keep children safe and fed, while engaging them in culturally rich experiences.
If education was apolitical (Dutat, 2017), organised by a think-tank of education, business and industry leaders – not to sway voters – we would have the authentic ability, as teachers and professionals, to become the architects of the future of our vocation and to take from this situation something positively transformational for all who work within our field, and by extension the lives that we influence.
Ambition School Leadership [ASL]. (2016). England’s headteacher shortage. Retrieved from https://www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/blog/englands-headteacher-shortage/
Ball, S. J. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228. https://doi.org/10.1080/0268093022000043065
Benn, M., & Downs, J. (2016). The truth about our schools; Exposing the myths, exploring evidence. London: Routledge.
Children, Schools and Families Select Committee. (2008). Testing and assessment. Third Report of Session 2007–08 (Volume 1). London: House of Commons. Retrieved from http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/pdfs/2008-testing-and-assessment.pdf
Coe, R. (2013). Improving education: A triumph of hope over experience. Centre for Evaluation & Monitoring, Durham University. Retrieved from http://www.cem.org/attachments/publications/ImprovingEducation2013.pdf
Department for Education [DfE]. (2017). Developing character skills in schools – Qualitative case studies. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/634712/Developing_Character_skills-Case_study_report.pdf
Dutat, J. L. (2017). ‘We need an independent educational appointments commission to take the politics out of schools’. TES online. Retrieved from https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/we-need-independent-educational-appointments-commission-take?amp
Holmes, H., & Burgess, G. (2020). ‘Pay the wi-fi or feed the children’: Coronavirus has intensified the UK’s digital divide. Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Retrieved from https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/digitaldivide
Viner, J. (2018, October 11). Pupil premium: Is it making a difference? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.optimus-education.com/pupil-premium-it-making-difference