Grainne Kitsiou-McLaughlin, Head of School, The Gateway Academy
The truth is I’m exhausted. Not from the conveyor belt our schools have become throughout the Covid pandemic but the very pitiful response to ‘help’ children ‘catch up’ by extending the school day and shorter summer holidays. That is transformational leadership at its best!
Most schools already offer additional leaning periods after school, weekends, evenings, during the holiday session, so now I’m wondering are we going to be doing catch up, after catch up every day (and night)! It all sounds rather depressing and out of touch with an educational system that is meant to work for all young people including ‘the forgotten third’.
Let’s really use this epoch-defining opportunity to do the right thing by all young people in our society who perhaps will be impacted the most in the longer term by the Covid crisis. After all, it is likely that their generation and those after them will be paying for the billions spent ‘wisely’ (I’ll save that blog for a different day!). Can we really look in the mirror and accept an educational system that is simply out of touch with the modern world, a narrow curriculum that is more focused on cognitive ability and a hierarchical structure that places more worth on certain ‘buckets’. Yes, buckets full of history and geography but kicking out the arts, physical education, health and social care (clap for our carers at this point please) and the importance of ‘testing’ our students on more than a narrow set of assessments which amount to 15 or more exam papers in an examination hall; the system already is already designed to ensure a proportion of our young people will fail.
Our young people deserve more. They deserve a holistic experience within the school environment, focused on the development of the whole person, league tables based on head, hand and heart. Dedicated time on the curriculum devoted to wellbeing and the fundamental role we all play in creating a truly fair and equal society, not us trying to squeeze these extremely important lifeskills as an add-on to an already packed curriculum. Headteachers not being under extreme pressure to focus exclusively on what will be measured through examinations only. Then there is the question of the curriculum itself and the lens through which is depicted. Let’s review our curriculum, live the lessons we continue to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement and move away from a ‘dominant white, Eurocentric curriculum’.
It is clear that schools are at the very heart of society. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we helped develop a community full of Marcus Rashfords. However, I fear the 12-year-old Marcus Rashford of today will be told ‘how much he has missed out on’ under pressure to do hours and hours of academic catch up and measured every week through academic assessments. He might not have the time to play football and have a passion for what he enjoys in life but at least he will get grade 4s at GCSE and we will be happy as it supports our position in the league tables. He might miss out on becoming an elite sportsperson and supporting the fight to end child hunger in the UK, all because of the decisions that are being made by us and we know better, don't we?
So let’s use additional funding not on endless tutoring programmes but on sports programmes, music programmes, expert mental health support in each school.
Let's radically change our curriculum and have an educational system that is fit for the 21st century.