We have to make up for a gulf in educational provision

I wonder if we have forgotten what schooling is for. The system we have – or perhaps, had – is far from perfect, but for years teachers and schools have been arguing that missing school is enormously damaging to children as people, and parents have been subject to huge pressure (and often legal action) to ensure that not even a day is missed.

The things that children learn in school aren’t easily summed up in terms of bits of knowledge, or anything as mechanical as a national curriculum.  Education is all about development.  The point of insisting that every child comes to school is not because they will learn, on a given day in March or April, a particular thing that they must learn ; it is so that they can grow, build skills, change, and develop.

Our  public authorities seem, however, to be taking this in a very different spirit.  There’ll be supplementary programmes over the summer: children will be taught faster to catch up.  They will be processed through the system.  Those facing exams will be allocated grades regardless of what they might actually be achieving.  In The Wizard of Oz, the scarecrow may have no brain, but the wizard can offer him a certificate. This is not much better.

Pupils need to make up for lost time and opportunities – already somewhat more than a full term, and arguably rather more. That implies that the educational career of every schoolchild needs to be extended, probably by half a year at least.  We will need more teachers and more resources: we can do that.  But anything less will not be good enough.

One thought on “We have to make up for a gulf in educational provision”

  1. I am neither parent nor teacher; I left school in 1978 so my views may be irrelevant. However: education is deemed “important” yet schools are often closed for avoidable reasons; e.g. poor weather, elections, etc plus contractual “in service days” for teachers. Scottish teachers received the highest public sector pay settlement in 2019-20 (spread over two years) and will have received full pay during CV 19 irrespective of whether they are fully gainfully employed or not (it would be interesting to have data on this as no doubt some teachers have worked extra hours unpaid to produce online material whilst perhaps others have had a slightly more relaxed time?). In addition to pay, teachers receive longer holidays, good pension etc cf other public sector workers and are treated as the most important staff in any local authority school. Support assistants, admin, janitors, cleaners and others all have poorer salary/conditions of service and some may be employed via private sector agencies. Teaching unions esp in Scotland have been very successful in protecting and enhancing their members interests which is fair enough. However there is a creeping inflexibility in the approach of teaching trades unions which is at odds with the needs of children. Children, esp those from poorer backgrounds, disabilities etc should be spending more structured time at school as this is often the best and safest environment for them. Food poverty during school holidays is a major issue. School buildings are expensive to build yet often lie unused or partly used for 160 days per year. School lets have become prohibitively expensive for many community groups due to local authority fees. However any attempt to increase school hours/days is immediately resisted by teachers’ unions as is any suggestion that unqualified staff could be used as “instructors” for certain non-core subjects. Whilst existing teachers are entitled to contractual protection, it should be possible to incrementally introduce changes to contracts for new teachers so that in due course there would be a pool of teachers who were, eg entitled to 4 weeks summer leave rather than 6/7? Non-teaching school support staff should perhaps have their pay and conditions more closely linked to teachers rather than part of the massive millions of varied local authority staff conditions which don’t reflect the needs of schools? (Many years ago my wife was a term time school secretary and had to claim unemployment benefit during the unpaid summer break; this anomaly has I believe now been rectified). Scottish Government and local authorities need to work out more effective ways of managing education provision ensuring that related policies re child welfare, inequality are effectively linked up in implementation. The CV 19 crisis and lockdown has been devastating for all sectors of education; there is no sense of urgency within Scottish/local government as to the scale of action required to ensure that children and young people do not lose out. The speed and creativity of the NHS in responding to the immediate crisis needs to be reflected in all sectors of government responsibility. However I fear that governments throughout the world and certainly in UK/home nations demonstrate via incompetence that they are incapable of effective multi-tasking and can only deal with one “crisis” at a time?

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