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Vic Goddard – “I hope we’re all able to take some positives away from this pandemic”

Hard though the past few months have been, we should find time to also celebrate the good that’s come out of them, and make the most of the resulting learning opportunities...

  • Vic Goddard – “I hope we’re all able to take some positives away from this pandemic”

As the planning for the full return of our young people continues apace across all schools, it’s easy to focus on the challenges of the last few months and moan about the difficulties we’ve all faced. However, I don’t think it takes much thought to realise there are many things we should be recognising and celebrating too.

As we attempt to support all of our young people, we must recognise and appreciate the vastly different experiences they’ll have had during the lockdown. For some, their parents/carers will have been at work throughout, leaving them to spend lots of time on their own or with siblings. Others will have spent a great deal of time together as a family, with both positive and negative consequences.

Teachers often use cultural experiences to help young people contextualise their knowledge and understanding – so what are some of the more positive takeaways can we learn from?  It’s hard to deny that for several weeks, the Thursday night clap for the NHS served as a unifying experience for many. Similarly, the media coverage of Captain Sir Tom Moore’s hugely successful NHS fundraising efforts helped lift our spirits as a nation.

A real gift

At Passmores, we’ve focussed on commemorating one event during lockdown that we think will inspire our young people – when the young Manchester United and England forward Marcus Rashford used his privileged position to speak out for others regarding the supply of free school meals during the holidays.

We often hear about the worst behaviour of our young sportsman – especially footballers – in the newspapers and on television, so being able to highlight such a young and approachable example for our students to look up to is a real gift for schools.

As a Co-operative Academy, the values we aspire to live up to are well-established, but the fact that we’ve been able to find a real, accessible example of someone taking their self and social responsibilities seriously will shape many conversations at Passmores this year. I’m sure a number of schools will be reminding their young people to take their mocks even more seriously, in case we end up with a similar exams situation again in future, but that’s an easy sell. By doing that, students will benefit directly. What’s much more challenging is encouraging them to do the right thing because it’ll help other people they may never meet. 

Each year we organise a Community Day, during which our young people participate in local community projects. It’s not everyone’s favourite day, and is liable to throw up the odd ‘How does this help me pass my exams?’ comment. However, it’s actually one of the most important learning experiences we give them – a chance to show our community and themselves just how much of a positive difference young people can make.

Learn from the helpers

I hope we’re all able to take some positives away from this pandemic that we can talk to our young people about once they’ve returned to us, whilst simultaneously recognising the challenges many of them have had to face. I’m sure I’ve previously referenced the old Mr Rogers’ quote about ‘looking for the helpers’ when seeing scary news stories, but it’s even more vital now that we recognise, celebrate and learn from those helpers as life returns to something approaching normal.

Indeed, we recently made a rather bold statement regarding Mr Rashford’s actions, and actually put up a large mural in the heart of our school (pictured above) to celebrate what he achieved. However, symbolic actions like this without change soon lose their impact.

It’s therefore vital that we use this unique opportunity to reinforce the positive aspects of our society that have come to the fore, and to show that our students must do all they can to develop their own opportunities for helping others. They could continue to do the shopping for their elderly neighbour, or actively volunteer in other ways.

If we ignore these things now, in our rush to catch up on the academic work they’ve missed, we’ll be doing our young people an educational disservice, and missing out on a (hopefully) once in a lifetime learning opportunity.

Vic Goddard is headteacher at Passmores Academy – as seen on Channel 4’s Educating Essex – and the author of The Best Job in the World (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99)

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