When it comes to education, particularly since yesterday, there are rather a lot of people I’d rather not be. I’d rather not be a not smart kid, for a start (I know that calling kids thick, dim or stupid is frowned upon these days, though some of the alternative labels used today are fooling no-one, and so not smart seems the best option, as in: “is that kid smart?” “no, that kid is not smart”). I bet the not smart kids aren’t looking forward to much at the moment; and certainly not more work. Then we have the lazy kids; they won’t want any extra work being thrown their way either. We also have the hard working kids and the bright kids and the kids with parents who helped them during home learning or at least had a ‘device’ and a dollop of the internet – those kids probably feel they’ve earned a break by now. We also have the parents themselves, who will need to rearrange their lives all over again to accommodate plans which probably won’t work anyway; I suppose if you’ve put in the donkey work already there is less chance of having to do this. And let’s not forget we have the teachers too, because they’ll be clapped out and needing a break from it all – a few weeks away from the noise and the headaches, a chance to mothball their scuffed shoes, cheap boots, corduroy skirts and polycotton the rest. I wouldn’t want to be any of that lot. I also wouldn’t want to be Gavin Williamson, but that’s because, well, why would you wish that on yourself?
After much dithering, and probably very little listening to anyone who might know a thing or two, the government has released some hazy details of it’s plan to get Britain’s kids back on track after a year of lockdown education and a layer of Covid rules, regulations and making do in the classroom. Despite the hype this isn’t a lost generation that we’re talking about, it’s just a generation that did school differently for a year, and while some will have suffered considerably from the experience it is very likely fair to say that the children that have come off worse are those that would have done badly anyway, often through no fault of their own. At the bottom of the barrel (by that I mean, er, that you wouldn’t necessarily ask them to operate heavy machinery any time soon) are the children that nobody really wanted in the first place. These poor individuals will have been drunken mistakes, or worse, and they will be loved by none of the people that they naturally turn to for love. Neglect, abuse, fear and pain will have been their only constant companions and even if mummy or daddy had the luxury of an fucking iPad it is unlikely to have been used to log into Miss Tickle’s lesson on the use of commas, (I hope that one was right) or Mr Ribb’s well planned but poorly executed effort on long division. These wasted little lives have been failed by successive governments for decades, partly because of their own brand of neglect and partly because they never want to offend potential voters by suggesting that some parents are absolutely dreadful human beings and not fit to own a dead goldfish, let alone bring a child into the world.
A rung up (the barrel has changed into a ladder now, just to confuse you) are some unfortunates that at least have the benefit of being loved, but not a lot else. Occasionally there is a quirk in the genetic rule of thumb which blesses an intellectually barren couple with a smart kid. Generally speaking however, the empty spaces and physical shortfalls (male pattern baldness and dreadful eyesight are blessings compared to some afflictions) of parents will be passed down in some form or other and so the DNA string gets kinked and tangled and the gene pool water thickens further, and the children that emerge will struggle all their lives with even the basics: it is truly a crime for an education system to allow any child to reach adulthood without basic levels of literacy and numeracy and yet there they are, so obvious. Failed. Failed before Covid ever even knocked on the door, and failed by a policy of wanting to provide a soft landing for all and yet doing it in a ruinously inefficient and unsuccessful manner. Famously, the Spartans had quite a strict policy on weak offspring, which at least ensured they grew into a formidable military power, but at the expense of many other societal graces – these days it is also frowned upon to throw less than perfect babies off a cliff edge, and quite rightly so. Besides, where are the Spartans now?
As for the rest of the children who have ‘fallen behind’ (technically speaking everyone has fallen behind in some sense or other and so what’s really happened is that nobody has fallen behind but instead everyone has stopped momentarily and some have picked up where they left off in a much sharper fashion than others) well they’ll probably be alright in the end. Boris et al made such a balls up of the examinations last year that all most kids need to do this year is be nice to the teacher, write their own name and cough to show they’re still alive and they’ll get at least a ‘C’, or whatever the number equivalent is these days. Some will want better than that and they will have worked the extra hours anyway, and if they’re not too bothered then they’ll have parents who won’t let them take the piss and in the long run those buggers will be grateful later in life for the bit of tough love they had to endure. The remainder will be bright enough to know they could have done better and bright enough to have done well enough to get by. We should briefly mention those ‘lucky’ few who get masses of tutoring already, because lucky they are not, as over-tutoring usually goes one of two ways: either the tutee makes zero extra progress because they’re just not very bright to start with (biology playing games again), or they will be whipped into becoming some ludicrous version of a child prodigy and then will subsequently spend their late teens contemplating suicide on a daily basis.
Boris and Gavin have promised a big chunk of change to deliver their idea of useful support. Headteachers say the money is far below what is needed, but don’t worry because we’re all going to get a £200 million super yacht to promote British trade overseas, so that’ll keep our spirits up. Most of the money has been earmarked for small group tutoring but there doesn’t seem to be any structure or hint at how that might work; it’s almost as if no one has thought it through properly. I expect some teachers will go for the extra money – if that’s how it’s meant to happen – and some schools will stay open longer or make use of a summer they can’t use for much else, like fun and giggles. We know the government weren’t prepared for this pandemic, and while we might be riddled with flashy tech we also weren’t ready for large scale online learning for those that needed it most, and that’s something else to remember. Hopefully by the next time we get hit by a shit this big we’ll have learned to acknowledge a few essentials: that the kids that struggle will always struggle; that the next big IT ‘powerful tool’ will be absolutely useless, because it always is; and that you can throw as much money as you like at a dead dog (see NHS) but in the end the money will have disappeared and you’ll still have a dead dog on your hands. I’m just grateful I went to school in an era when nobody took it all quite so seriously, or at least didn’t pretend they had the solution to a problem that can never be properly solved.
G B Hewitt. 03.06.2021
Ps – all spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes are deliberate. I’ve been testing you all along.