So What Now? Catch-Up? Recovery? Or ‘Business as Usual’ ? I must admit I’ve been thinking A LOT about this since the new year.
Come the 8th March, the vast majority of our children will be returning to us full-time.
Children and young people are anxious enough at the moment. They have missed school, missed their friends, missed a lot of learning, and have been robbed of a part of their childhood.
I was employed by my school back in September to help children who were struggling in maths because of a whole range of issues, not just the pandemic.
So I certainly don’t have a problem with the idea of organising ‘catch-up sessions‘ for those who have fallen behind the rest of their class for whatever reason. However – I think there are issues we need to be very wary about.
Firstly, where this becomes more problematic in my view is when we treat whole cohorts as though they are ‘all’ behind. But behind what, exactly? In reality they are only ‘behind’ what is after all merely an arbitrary curriculum, designed at the whim of policy makers.
Behind some created ‘Age-Related Expectations’ that expect me to be exactly as competent as you in all areas because we share a birthday. Behind some mythical comparism that is as unreliable as it is meaningless. A curriculum that has too narrow a view of what mathematics is, that on the surface could be seen as nothing more than a set of arbitrary deeds to be learnt and performed, and reproduced on SAT and GCSE papers. A curriculum whose vision at times appears to be limited to little more than a dry, linear progression, where like monkeys, children trudge step by tedious step towards their examined performance and proudly work out 35% of 60 without once daring to wonder why on earth that might be remotely useful to anyone. (It is useful of course, like much of mathematics, but how often do they get the chance to think about that?) So I question the idea of ‘catch-up at any cost.‘
My second concern is financial. There is a finite pot of money available. Quite rightly, the government has set this money aside to help schools meet the needs of their children as they return to some sort of new normality.
Quite wrongly, however, FAR too much of this is going to be siphoned off by private companies seeking to profit. One organisation is reputedly charging £84 per hour (£21 from school, £63 from tax payer) to offer 1-3 face to face tutoring, while only paying £15 to its least experienced (unqualified) tutors.
Of the 33 ‘approved’ organisations, only 11 are non-profit. The rest it seems are taking advantage of the situation in an unforgivable way. To help children, um, ‘catch-up’. With something or other.
Recovery, on the other hand, is a different story. There is not a single one of us, adult or child, who does not need to recover in some way. But please let that recovery be from the right things.
The last thing our children need as they return to school next week is something that although it might be called a ‘recovery curriculum’ is in fact little more than a concentrated form of the performing monkey skill set. So on what should the recovery focus? Lots of things, but here is a sample of things from which I think we urgently need to plan recovery for the children in our care: What about if we offer them recovery from a lack of opportunity, from a lack of community, from unsettling uncertainty, from painful loss of loved ones or experiences, from a lack of opportunites to wonder, to do maths communally, to solve puzzles, to have thought processes skillfully questioned by teachers, or perhaps most of all from feeling that they are behind? Wouldn’t that perhaps do far more good than reminding someone that the sin of 45 degrees is, err, – oh, I’ve forgottten after such a long break. Better get catching up…