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Cooling the temperature

Extending school provision after ‘lockdown’ is not going to be quite as easy as it was made to sound just two weeks ago by the top man at Number 10. Today’s latest announcement of “the science” – leaning towards a cautious position – will reassure some, unsettle others.

It may unfortunately unravel the hard work done by many with the best of intentions at the last hurdle, just before we go into half term. Those who have been taking a slightly more reserved position may be the only ones uttering a sigh of relief: to be honest, everyone is simply exhausted now.

The judgement of Solomon which school Governing Boards, leaders, staff and communities have tried to exercise in recent weeks, one way or the other, reflects the end point of an epic piece of work for thousands of schools. The sheer volume of guidance has broken records, felled forests.

Balancing risk assessment with feasibility study, clarity of position with consultation, legality with leadership, the complexities and the stress of constant adjustments and information overload have been enough to push many over the edge of reason.

At a future date, with the benefit of hindsight or 2020 vision, we may all regret the lack of sensitivity to stress levels, at the point when we are back to considering retention and recruitment issues.

Parents have possibly been the group showing the most remarkable and sophisticated understanding – up to 95% in school surveys indicating that they have been ahead of the curve in recognising that none of this is easy.

Everyone – and I do mean everyone – has had the best of intentions in this.

The Unions are right to look after their members; the government is right to be seeking some movement towards “normal service being resumed”. Media voices recognise rightly that this is a critical point in management of the pandemic and there are political ramifications of how this all plays out.

Maybe even worse than medical contagion, our collective health and well-being has been put at risk by the sowing of viral dissent and discord.

What has been particularly sad to hear from some quarters is the tone of self-importance – becoming something of a syndrome in education in recent years – which of course is inevitably at the very heart of politics, but does not help. Former roles don’t qualify any of us to comment on this one.

When education moves into the eye of a political storm as in the last fortnight, almost everyone has asserted the importance of their viewpoint. Hardening attitudes have brought us to the brink of a serious confrontation.

It has been a long time coming, but it is another sign of the strain on everybody. We’re no different from everyone else, by the way – this is really not intended to come across as a ‘holier than thou’ or ‘told you so’ blog.

In trying to formulate the right support and advice for all of our schools; actually, in considering our very future as a network driven by cooperative values and principles, we have had some strong internal debate recently which is good and robust, challenging – and sometimes just a little divisive.

These are not easy times and these are not simple issues – they run deep into our personal experience; and with experience we come to believe in our expertise, of coures. A close friend kindly made the point that in what CSNET has been putting out recently, there is a very slim margin between professional opinion and professional advice.

George Eliot wrote: “We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves.” This comes back to me from a painful personal relationship when someone (less kindly) used the quote to advise and chastise me on the way out of the door. The original “Get over yourself!”

This is no time for self-importance or self-indulgence.

Amanda Spielman’s latest contribution in Schools Weekly strikes the right balance, when she states: “It’s very clear to me that teachers want to teach and the current situation is as professionally frustrating as it is personally concerning.” – perhaps indicating in other parts of this article just the very mildest of rebukes for aristocratic armchair critics.

Her last significant contribution on 3rd May had a slightly different focus: “If you look at the interests of children, it’s very clear that their interests are best served, in the vast majority of cases, by being back at school as soon as possible.”

So all of us are, not surprisingly, learning in the searing high-stakes heat of crisis management which is being fuelled by science and social media.

The way out of this crisis may have a lot to do with using calmer language – phrases like “less is more”; “slow down not a showdown”; “the art of the possible” and “there does not have to be a uniform pattern of solutions”. These words are genuinely helpful in trying to slow down and create the right space in which we can all get it right for children and young people.

Maybe it would be good to hear words for this weekend, along the lines of….

  1. “Governing Boards, Trusts, Local Authorities and School Leaders should now work together with their learning communities to develop plans for extending provision at an appropriate pace in the light of local conditions and the currently available guidance and advice.” (DfE)
  2. “Following updated advice from the DfE, the (name of body) is working closely with our school/s leadership to make arrangements for extending provision which is safe for everyone and which represents our commitment to learning provision of a high quality.” (Governing Boards, Trustees and LA expressions of support for school leaders.)
  3. “We recognise the challenges that this unprecedented situation creates for schools and their staff. Working together, we will seek to find solutions that are manageable and reasonable that address concerns and resolve any professional differences in a constructive manner.” (Unions, Ofsted, Ofqual, other bodies with vested interest in the careful and successful management of an extension to provision.)
  4. “Our Health and Schools public services have shown Britain at its best” (Daily Mail)

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but let’s see what a spot of cooperation can do to cool the temperature.

1 thought on “Cooling the temperature

    • Author gravatar

      Thank you for your reasoned comment. It has given school leaders the permission to breathe deeply, and continue to formulate plans which are right for their context.
      ” If you can keep your head when all about your are losing theirs and blaming it on you!”

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