Children playing outside
Children playing outside

When the Prime Minister went back to school for a photo opportunity, he popped all sorts of bubbles as he failed to observe his 2m social distancing. While maths is clearly not his strength, his elite education, has also left him unable to answer his own question as to ‘how’ a return can be safely achieved.

He doesn’t need to worry. He has set the homework, it is for the enigma-solving school heads to come up with the answers. No clues have been left on this occasion.

To stretch our nation’s leading educationalists a little bit further, as all good teachers aim, the Prime Minister cannot tell schools what the infection rate will be in September, what the science is saying about infection spread by young people, what the social distancing and PPE requirements will be after the summer, nor where the schools are going to find the additional teaching staff and physical space necessary. But in his generosity he has allowed staff to use their summer break to work this through.

Mixed in with this impossible challenge are the expectations of parents, pupils and teachers. All want schools to return to ‘normal’ as soon as is possible. There are big issues to address to ensure that every child is back on track, that attainment gaps are closed, and young children can once again see the trajectory they are on, and work to their aspirations.

Teachers long to teach; it is their vocation. However as they support their pupils day and night in school and out, in person and through emails, phone and screen, as they prepare mini-movies of what used to be called lessons, and as they navigate IT systems to send and receive work, they are also having to work out how they can teach.

Parents, alongside juggling work, who in their home uses the laptop next, and childcare, want their youngsters back into the school routine, but without being able to plan, are having to learn the skills their professional teachers use every day, without any training themselves. I dare say that parents have re-learnt how to do quadratic equations and ‘parle un peu français’, but this isn’t teaching either.

Young people have had their world turned upside down. Some have not seen their friends for months, some wonder if they ever will as they transition to new schools. Some are struggling with their own well-being as they work their minds around the national crisis, others have experienced loss to Covid-19 and are hurting. Some are lonely, others receive their daily dose of cyber-bullying with no one there to support them, some have become invisible maybe even vulnerable and exploited by others. They need to be back in school. But until the big test is passed, they do not know when or how.

Teachers have worked continuously since February, many for longer, without time to draw breath, preparing, planning, marking, and wondering what the next hurdle will be. They are under acute pressure and have now been set the ultimate exam, not knowing how the next school year will end, let alone begin.

Governing bodies are also asking questions like who will pay, how will they exercise their duty of care, how will they keep everyone safe. Already significant sums have been syphoned off by Government to private companies, off-shore to provide educational packages, but the cost of restarting school goes well beyond paying for a few pairs of gloves and a mask or two. The Chancellor said “whatever it takes”; the problem with the Government’s daily broadcast is that the rules have already changed before coming off air.

So ‘back to school’, and the Government have done their part.

What was a political expedient headline, is once again met with no evidence, clarity or substance. Schools have already had to deal with over 200 changes in the Government guidance. Over the last three months teachers have been putting plans in place and then reworking them based on the latest change, but now it seems that they are to work miracles too. Before going back to school, the Government needs to go back to the drawing board.

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