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Primary schools and Covid – Which changes to keep and which to dump

Let's reflect on what we've learned from the coronavirus in UK schools, and how it might impact our future, says Kevin Harcombe...

  • Primary schools and Covid – Which changes to keep and which to dump

As I write, English lockdown restrictions are being eased to allow ‘visits indoors to a house not your own’ – great news for Burglar Bill – and hugs, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Instead of guessing the future, let’s look back and reflect on what we’ve learned from the crisis – which changes stay and which go.

Ups and downs

When it came to children in rows, teachers felt conflicted seeing their classrooms looking like a 1930s black-and-white documentary. Then they found that children actually looking in their direction was a boon to gaining their attention. Who knew?

Parent-teacher meetings by Zoom? Parents like not waiting in draughty corridors on undersized chairs and teachers like being able to wobble the webcam and claim dodgy WiFi signal when they’ve had enough. Win win.

There’s certainly been health benefits to paying more attention to ventilation in schools, but with windows and doors permanently flung open to dissipate viral aerosol, school corridors were like wind tunnels for testing fighter jets.

Wearing warm black balaclavas indoors risked investigations by the Line of Duty crew looking for H.

Remote learning? Some teachers considered resigning rather than appear on video and suffer parents’ sarcastic critiques of their appearance.

Others treated the webcam like an old friend, ‘performed’ naturally and were headhunted by TV companies looking for the next Bradley Walsh.

And speaking of game shows, for all the many high-tech learning benefits of Google Classroom, the highlight for me was watching Y1 (most of whom attended virtual meets in their PJs), playing the socks on/socks off guessing game – coming soon to ITV.

Teacher appreciation

What about parents’ new-found respect for teachers? It was a fascinating psychological study to see parents’ tension ratchet up as remote learning wore on and on, like something from a Stephen King horror story.

Families feared they might be trapped teaching bloody fronted adverbials for decades, cursing Sir Tim Berners Lee for inventing the web in the first place.

Some snapped, usually when their child told them for the 99th time, ‘Miss doesn’t do it like that.’ Diagnoses of parental PTSD are imminent. Parents love their children, of course they do, but it’s nice to have a break from them sometimes. It’s a mental wellbeing thing.

When it comes to children’s respect for teachers, I enjoyed seeing the relief on their little sun-deprived faces when, far from feeling separation anxiety, they fled gleefully into the blessed relief of the parent-free zone that is school; parents’ plaintive and cruelly ignored ‘Love you!’ cries dying in the cold morning air as children raced to be with their pals.

Children love their parents, of course they do, but it’s nice to have a break from them sometimes. It’s a mental wellbeing thing.

Venture out

City economies – coffee shops and transport – are suffering due to home working, but what are the effects of cancelled school trips? The lucrative market in souvenir pencils, bookmarks and key rings has gone into freefall.

A colleague this week tentatively returned to the fray, taking a class of five-year-olds to the zoo – safely outdoors in small groups.

Recently furloughed zookeepers enthusiastically poked reluctant animals out of their shelters so children could see giraffes, tigers, snow leopards and even sunbathing lemurs (show-offs), safely al fresco.

Many were so glad to be out in the open they dashed about like Duracell bunnies on Red Bull. As did the animals.

On the coach home, to assess the learning value of the expensive trip, a teacher asked Albie what his highlight had been. He thought long and hard before announcing, ‘I had a really nice poo’. Job done. Or jobbie done, perhaps.

And what of the phenomenon of public applause? Schools didn’t get a weekly clap like NHS staff, which is fair enough; they were saving actual lives and putting their own at risk – but, hey, we were educating future generations and stopping parents going doolally.

Whatever. Reader, please take a virtual rapturous round of applause for you all; teachers, cleaners, office staff, lollipop folk and dinner ladies. Well done – you’ve all been magnificent!

Kevin Harcombe is a Teaching Awards winner and headteacher at Redlands Primary, Fareham. Follow him on Twitter at @kevharcombe.

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