Finding our new ‘normal’?

If you had
One shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it
Or just let it slip?

Lose Yourself – Eminem

It seems like we are all now planning for education in a post-Covid landscape.  Stories of class reorganisation, bubbles, distancing, spaces etc fill our social media feeds and it is uplifting to see how education professionals are doing everything they can at the moment to make ‘school‘ happen.

I deliberately emphasise the word school there because I firmly believe that what we have at the moment is not school as we know it, it is simply a version of school that is fittung the current agenda which, let’s be honest, is to allow people back to work so that the government can get the economy moving.

What I worry about is what becomes our new normal.  I wandered into our EYFS classroom last week as it was being prepared for wider opening – it barely resembles the loving, nurturing space that existed earlier in the year.  Cooperative learning spaces are replaced by desks with a chair for one child.  The worry is the very essence of the EYFS curriculum will be removed and what we are left with becomes the new norm.

Now my EYFS colleagues will say they won’t let this happen but my worry is that even if we go to a model of wider opening in September then the idea of social distancing is here to stay.  We already acknowledge that the 2m rule is virtually impossible to uphold in a primary school, let alone EYFS.  We know that if a child is crying in the early years then we are going to ignore the guidance and go with our instincts – this is what makes us human and what our children are missing at the moment.

If we allow the current situation to become the status quo by default then we run the risk of losing the purpose of both the EYFS and primary education.  We risk heading back to a Victorian model of education; children sitting alone, at desks in neat rows 2 meters apart.  Whilst there are no doubt some who would welcome this we have to look at whether it is actually appropriate for our youngest and most vulnerable children (I can see the relevance of this approach in secondary lessons at times so please don’t @ me as some kind of bleeding-heart liberal – I may have taken up reading The Guardian but I’m not full on  yet)

We have missed a trick in the current climate.  This enforced ‘pause’ in ‘education’ should have provided us with an opportunity to think about how we do things better.  However it hasn’t allowed leaders that luxury because of the incompetence of the DfE.  Dealing with multiple changes of guidance, whilst trying to react to announcements from the Prime Minister that are a surprise to even him, have taken their toll.  Efforts are being expended in making sure schools are safe, which is ultimately correct, but little can be done to look to the future. Great efforts have been made to provide alternative learning provision for our children but even this has been decried by some in public life, notably Lord Adonis et al.  Even Amanda Speilman has acknowledged the issues faced, telling a parlimentary select committee “We have to accept that gaps are widening in a way we simply can’t tackle with online-only education”.

But what if our ‘out of school learning’ (I have issues with being fully online as a teacher in a community that doesn’t all have superfast, unlimited broadband connectivity) allows us to take learning in a completely different direction?  What if we allowed our pupils to explore a topic of their choice whilst providing them some direction about what we wanted to see from them?  Why would somebody learning all about the lifecyle of the frog and presenting their information be of any less value than somebody studying the importance of Lord Armstrong to the economy of the North East?  If we look at Teachers’ Standards then it is an explicit aim to promote a “…love of learning and children’s intellectual curiosity” (Teachers’ Standards – DfE).  We could look at the current situation as a catylist for change here.  I’m not fully advocating project based learning but we can guide children in topics to explore.  We’ve attempted this in our school as a change from the diet of maths/English tasks – more open ended tasks on a particular topic to help engage our learners.

The Covid situation has also shown us that we have to invest in national infrastructure.  Whilst some schools are able to offer the gold-plated, live lessons all day scenario it remains fact that some cannot.  We have families without either the devices or the connectivity to allow their children to be sat at a screen for 6 hours a day and indeed they should not be doing that.  Some have misunderstood the concept of ‘online learning’ and interpreted this as if a school is not Zooming all their children every day then they are failing them in some way.  National programmes have not delivered technology in a way that was promised and we have a widening gap as a result.  For every online lesson delivered to part of a cohort we are cementing a knowledge gulf between our haves and have-nots.  Moving forward we need to think about how this can be overcome; perhaps central government investment in IT equipment and infastructure is needed as well as allowing time in school for children to become proficient in its use.

Sometimes I feel that the introspective, parochial nature of schools is our own worst enemy.  As human beings we work better in teams, especially when members of the team challenge our thinking.  We cannot do all of this alone and it is interesting to see how some schools are moving ahead whilst others are seen to be ‘floundering’ in the current situation.  Sometimes economy of scale comes into this as well as the amount of teacher knowledge we have about new technologies.  This has compounded the have/have-not issue once more, some schools were already fluent in the murky world of online learning whilst some have had to make it up as they go along (for the record, my school is in the second group).  Doing thing

Ultimately though we have to do things better.  Our new ‘normal’ should not be conflated with what we are doing now.  We have a grass roots opportunity to change our system for the better, to tailor the curriculum to suit our locality which is why, whilst I applaud programmes such as Oak Academy and BBC Bitesize, we have to accept that a homogenous approach to curriculum is not appropriate for all our needs (aside from the oxymoronic view that a system that doesn’t legally have to follow the National Curriculum is attempting to deliver elements of the National Curriculum to all).

But we have to do it better…



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