It was supposed to be over by now, but the epidemic doesn’t seem to be following the script.
In the last few weeks, Kovid has spread to the school again, the teachers have fallen ill again and the desk is being emptied quickly. The new over-the-counter form of Omicron comes at the wrong time for children who have already missed a lot in the last two years and are now facing Sats, GCSE or A-level in England this spring. A report by the Commons Education Select Committee, whose Tory Chair, Robert Halfon, has been worried about the issue for two years, recently concluded that school closures in England were “nothing less than a national catastrophe for children and young people”. Eight months behind schedule with students in the area and the government’s “catch-up” national tutoring program (NTP) has failed to provide exactly where it is most needed.
Schools have reported that tutoring companies are canceling lessons at the last minute, or sending tutors without knowledge of what they need to teach; Disappointed headmasters told the committee that they could have spent better money on their own.
All of this makes it a challenge for kids to get back to where they were before Kovid, not to think about moving forward. Yet this week the Secretary of Education, Nadeem Zahwei, released an ambitious white paper confirming new high goals in reading, writing and math for primary school children in England and improving GCSE results by 2030. She is right to be ambitious for children. But the vague talk about a “parental promise” that will help backward children – does anyone think teachers are trying to fix it now? – Slightly less indicative of how precisely they are willing to perform miracles: New figures released this week show that the average elementary student was still 1.9 months behind in mathematics as of autumn 2021 (although this is a distinct improvement from 2.8 months back. They were in the summer). . At a time when children’s waiting lists for mental health services are rolling through the roof (meaning emotional and behavioral difficulties are spreading in the classroom) and the crisis of life is plunging more families into desperate situations, nothing is being added.
Jahoi is much more confident than his predecessor, Gavin Williamson, with a fast track record of distribution as a vaccine minister. He may be gaining more traction in the catch-up program and hinting at giving schools more freedom to make arrangements that work for them. But he has to try to do it cheaply, which dispels really big ideas. Kevin Collins, the government’s elected catch-up “jar”, resigned last year after rejecting his proposals as too costly, and the more limited program that ministers finally announced was tendered last year by Dutch private company Randstad for a surprisingly low bid. . , With predictably bad results (the selection committee heard that the Randstad program was a “bureaucratic nightmare” and that its online tuition hub was “ineffective”).
It has never been easier to create trained teachers out of thin air to help children miss the right lessons over the months. But as the situation unfolded, everyone in the education sector feared that the lockdown would open up years of hard work to close the gap between rich and poor children – now risking becoming a reality, with disappointing consequences for children’s chances of survival. Home schooling was difficult for everyone, but middle-class parents were in a better position to deal with it and could afford personal help if something went wrong. For their less fortunate classmates, the NTP should have been a lifeline but, as of last spring, failed to reach more than a third of the schools in northeastern England and in Yorkshire and Humber, two regions where children can be observed. The loss of learning is the deepest. A lot for leveling.
England’s children’s commissioner, former head teacher Rachel de Souza, has already warned of the number of “ghost children” who have apparently disappeared from radar during the epidemic. In the summer of 2020, with the debate over whether schools could open safely in the fall, I spoke with the head of an inner-city secondary school who was concerned that after a few months some teenagers at home would simply drop out and never return to school. . At the other end of the age spectrum, fewer families are accepting the offer of free nursery space for two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds, a place that helps them prepare for school; Children’s centers report families who have not seen a professional face-to-face since the birth of their children and have lost the habit of simply engaging in official work.
Keeping schools open to all through the first lockdown, no vaccine or immunity against any unknown new virus, sadly this was not an effective possibility: despite the efforts of Boris Johnson, the schools had to be closed anyway as the teachers fell ill. By limiting the spread of the infection, school closures have probably saved the lives of parents and grandparents. But now we must focus all our energy on fulfilling what the children have missed. They don’t have to become a “lost generation”, a stain forever. But it is disturbing that many opportunities to turn things around have already been lost: if we do not act decisively, we will live with the social, academic and economic consequences of disappointing these young people for years to come.