Over 13 million people in the UK have now been vaccinated and as this long winter draws to a close there is an inevitability that our thoughts turn to the future. It seems increasingly likely that schools will begin to reopen from the 8th March yet it seems naive to imagine that we will return to a world which is instantly familiar insomuch as some social distancing measures will inevitably remain in place for the foreseeable future.
It was in early March 2020, that it became apparent that school closures were going to happen. Few of us could have predicted the impact of a pandemic that has infected over 100,000,000 people globally and taken over 2,000,000 lives. The social, emotional and psychological effect of the lockdown has been just as concerning as the amount of classroom time missed. Technology has enabled us to continue delivering a full curriculum online but screen fatigue has become a real issue. Zoom and Google Classroom have provided much needed lifelines but nothing replaces face-to-face interaction. Our social interactions have been condensed to tessellated assemblages. The spontaneity and dynamic interchange of human interaction cannot be compensated for by a heightened appreciation of trends in interior design. There is an irony that connecting digitally only serves to underline our physical separation.
Eleven days after Armistice Day on 11th November, 1918, David Lloyd George visited Wolverhampton. It was in the Grand Theatre in Lichfield Street that he made his famous speech about making Britain ‘a fit country for heroes to live in’. He was preoccupied with the desire to improve the state of Britain’s housing and provide some purpose to four years of unfathomable conflict. In 1942, the Beveridge Report was published and this groundbreaking document identified the five giant ‘evils’ as want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The report provided a clear roadmap for post-war reconstruction predicated upon the idea of the welfare state and the provision of free healthcare from cradle to grave. Thus the seismic upheavals of the twentieth century were themselves the catalyst for societal change. When countries are convulsed by events that appear cataclysmic, it is not surprising that there is a desire to create something new. It is perhaps a way of us finding some sense of meaning in that which defies understanding.
Given epidemiological factors, it is perhaps understandable that globalisation has come under the spotlight in recent months. Those advocating isolationist policies find their position bolstered by an invisible enemy that’s primary modus operandi is to exploit human interaction. At the same time, the virus has served to highlight social and economic inequalities. As states have adopted increasingly authoritarian measures in an effort to contain the threat of infection, it is inevitable that concerns have arisen with regards to civil liberties. Words and phrases such as ‘woke’ and ‘cancel culture’ have entered our vocabulary and recent events at Eton College have made headlines because it taps into a deeper debate about education and society. Inequalities and iniquities have been brought into sharp relief by the troubled context within which we are living. The killing of George Floyd quite rightly aroused anger and dismay throughout the world. The revulsion that many felt gave way to a profoundly unsettling truth. We might have come so far since the middle of the twentieth century but there are still many who face persecution or the negative impact of unconscious bias due to their gender, race, creed or sexuality. Last week, the Headmaster Nicholas Hewitt, came out as gay to his pupils at St Dunstan’s College in an online assembly. Apparently this was the first time that a headmaster had publicly ‘come out’ in front of a school community. It is 2021.
Predicting change seems more difficult than ever but here are some thoughts for the future.
Ten potential changes
- Here at Rossall, we have appointed a Director of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion. Critically reflecting on all aspects of our operation from a perspective that is challenging but motivated by the desire to ensure that every member of our community feels equally valued is something which we embrace.
- As the concept of globalisation comes under sustained threat, communities predicated upon an active promotion of internationalism will become more vital in terms of serving as collegiate centres of understanding.
- Mental Health and Wellbeing will assume centre stage and the lessons of lockdown will lead to a more holistic vision of education.
- There will be a move away from ‘all or nothing’ summative examinations as a means of assessment. Modular structure courses will grow in popularity and coursework and other forms of continuous assessment will make a return.
- The curriculum will evolve to reflect the world’s growing reliance on the biomedical sector. STEM subjects will receive a boost in terms of their profile and ability to attract government funding.
- Lockdown has stimulated more of an appreciation of the great outdoors. Schools will become more creative in terms of their use of the natural environment to enhance learning and our woods, beaches, forests and mountains will serve as a context within which soft skills may be nurtured.
- Schools will explore more blended models of learning and make increasing use of ‘flipped’ classrooms. The emphasis will be upon inquiry based learning and independence.
- The sector will become more dynamic and perceive the true importance of independence. Centrally dictated ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions have proved to be dismally ineffective during the last twelve months. The independent sector has been successful because it has the creative space to be dynamic and proactive rather than static and reactive.
- Communication between home and school has been revolutionized by COVID-19. Relationships will become more collaborative and more open. Schools will become more adaptive to the needs of working parents and those living at a distance.
- Boarding will continue to grow in popularity as ‘full immersion’ is perceived to be an effective antidote to months of isolation.
Of course, who knows what the future holds? My predictions could well be wide of the mark for there have been many unforeseen consequences of COVID and much of what was predicted (such as the demise of international boarding) has not come to pass.
Above all else, I hope that you enjoy this half term break. I would be interested to know how you think education might change during the months and years ahead. In the meantime, let’s all look forward to a time when we are able to feel truly free once again.