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.