(Image from OECD reopening plans after lockdown)
We all had plans for 2020.
Yet from 30th January with the notice from the World Health Organisation of a public health emergency of international concern, plans were eliminated and our world changed. The planet entered a series of crisis. As the virus spread we experienced crisis in health, thousands dying; an economic crisis, millions furloughed. A pandemic transmitted through processes of globalisation led to a globalised education crisis.
By end of April over 185 countries had closed schools; by start of May it was estimated that over 1.5 billion children and young people were out of school. In India alone over 1.5 million schools were closed. With over 63 million primary and secondary teachers trying to ensure teaching and learning online, where ICT infrastructure and reliable internet connection exist, or through other ways, such as the radio, television texting and other means.
In Scotland, after 20th March, close to 1 million children and young people were not in schools or early learning centres. National external exams were cancelled and arrangements made for awards based on teacher judgement followed by statistical adjustment. Colleges and universities shut, quickly moving lectures and essays and exams online. Hubs were set up for vulnerable or those at risk and the children of key workers. Rapidly but in a piecemeal fashion learning moved from school and classroom to home and online. Now, parents and carers always the first educators of children, were lockdowned into trying to offer schooling too.
From our perspective before discussing the effects and the new normal it is crucial to admit that pre-crisis, Scottish school education had long-standing structural and institutional inequalities, never fully engaged with. Under COVID such inequalities are being amplified and will continue to get worse if we are only going to aim to get back to some form of pre-COVID normal!
The inequalities are in part underpinned by the view that in Scotland “it’s who you are” not which school you go to. The range of inequalities present include a lack of a positive strategy for schools in areas of greatest deprivation including declining attendance among children in greatest deprived areas. An educational system with endemic poorer outcomes for white working-class boys, care experienced youngsters. Children and young people with disabilities segregated with their right to inclusive education opined by MSPs as laudable intentions. That other form of separate development in education, the continued support of the state for private schools was extended. Allowances were granted for private schools to continue to continue to employ unqualified teachers and their tax breaks were extended once more. We oppose all state support for private schools.
Such structural inequalities play out in the curriculum too. We continue to over-value the domination of the academic curriculum across our education system. At early years the curriculum needs to be deschooled, with teaching and learning continuing to move towards challenging and enjoyable learning rather than too overly formal schooling with rigid ability grouping, seating by rows.
In the midst of crisis some socialist ideas about schools and education were reaffirmed while other processes were questioned.
Across the globe the effects of COVID reaffirmed that our schools operate as part of a state’s social services. The example of early years of a wraparound service offering education, care and health was one mark of this. Learning hubs offered services to at risk children and children of key workers. Parents and carers value their schools and teachers to educate, look after and care for their children too.
Schools are about people and relationships and not just for knowledge transmission or exam factories. Everyone missed (to some degree) the sets of relationships occurring in schools even more so than the work of the classroom.
Health and wellbeing is the responsibility of all. Our schools are to provide an environment where children (and staff too!) make progress in their social and emotional wellbeing. We all feel that children and young people shouldn’t be asked to socially isolate. All the recent brain research has us as social learners. We learn best together. On returning to schools they will be placing Maslow before Bloom, even if just in terms of appropriate distancing and respect for social space. .
When schools return not all children will return straight away and not all will want to be there again. We may well face more children less engaged with the ideas of school education – an additional COVID-cohort.
It seemed during the lockdown that some teachers were discovering that there is something called blended learning. Online learning has its place but it can only be is only supplementary. During COVID the best practice internationally was through the use of multi-platforms – TV, radio, mobile, Whatsapp, online. Thus minimising any digital divide. For the future we need to move beyond a narrow awareness of blended learning to an understanding of the universal design approach to teaching and learning across all media – word, text, screen.
What are the opportunities coming out of COVID’s education crisis to promote a more socialist agenda for Scottish education? Our what next answers.
- Early years deschooled
- Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
- End separate development
- Localise, localise, localise
- Education: framed in terms of social justice
Early years deschooled
The SEAS sees the need for the Scottish Labour Party to develop a comprehensive wraparound model of education, care and health from early childhood. Such services should be flexible, accessible, affordable and responsive to community needs with all year round provision and ensure that all children and family services support parents and carers where appropriate in identifying children’s needs and providing them with timeous and appropriate support. We want more investment and quality teaching and learning in nurseries and early learning centres in disadvantaged areas
It would be better than too-early and too-formal approaches of schooling. (Children in rows, rigid groupings, strict timetables). The SEAS proposes greater flexibility in starting ages evaluated as part of a Curriculum for Excellence review. We need to make schools more ready for children not get children ready for schooling.
Embed equality education throughout inclusive practices
SEAS is supportive of reviewing Curriculum for Excellence to secure continued improvement in a curriculum that is focused on children and young people. Curriculum for Excellence should seek to embed global citizenship education as well as equality education. Diversity needs to be valued as part of an inclusive curriculum. SEAS sees the need extensively develop equality education throughout Curriculum for Excellence. There have been only a few developments here with some LGBTI curricular inserts, some work in gender stereotyping regarding STEM subjects and a nod towards considering Scotland’s history regarding slavery and colonisation. More can be done by considering all aspects of equality and engaging with decolonisation of the curriculum. SNP have failed to take forward the embedding of equality education in the curriculum. It is even unlikely to feature in the OECD review.
At the later stages of secondary more needs to be done to broaden senior phase, by continuing to develop technical and vocational aspects for all in a way that values a wider range of learning beyond the exam factory. Such an approach complements building capacity in communities on a shared education agenda.
End separate development
As well the curriculum being more inclusive of difference our schools need to be accessible to all. Inclusive education has never yet been planned for resourced to ensure children’s rights to inclusive education are delivered. SEAS calls for repeal of Section 15 of 2000 Act and instead legislation brought to ensure those with disabilities and other differences are successfully included. Such an approach needs to be planned for and resourced nationally, locally, in communities and across schools and classrooms. Special schools and centres should be redesigned to support placements in inclusive schools.
SEAS welcomes Scottish Labour Party’s policy on ending all support and subsidy direct and indirect to private schools.
Localise, localise, localise
Finally the contribution of the SNP centralising policies such as the International Council of Education Advisers and Regional Improvement Collaboratives has been at very best close to zero. Our support staff, teachers, schools and councils delivered during lockdown. It would be a quiet night if people were asked to clap for the international advisers!
Education needs to rebalanced towards councils, schools and communities – all forms of collaboration should be led at more localised levels. Building capacity at a local level will mean more tailored curriculum in schools formed locally with community participation. And why not end high stakes externally imposed inspections and ask a community to co-investigate, evaluate and improve their schools. Something proposed by Paolo Freire back in the day.
Councils and local communities including schools and broadly in terms of education should held more accountable for social justice outcomes. Accountability can be framed in terms of social justice and schools co-evaluate provision with council, community and schools teachers and pupils. End high stakes inspections.
Education: framed in terms of social justice
In short we see schools as places and agents of social change; as part of education as a socialised service, a more localised service which has a global outlook but community-based framed in terms of social justice and seeking to build more inclusive communities and society in Scotland.