The case for decisiveness

Published 16th November 2020

Written by: Tony Ryan

Editorial for Designing 117 to be released in November 2020

I write this at the beginning of October and schools have been back for just over a month. At the time of writing the number of positive COVID cases is rising daily, university students nationally are finding themselves ‘locked down’ in halls and rented accommodation with the vast majority of learning delivered online, and schools are struggling as the number of positive tests in year groups forces school leaders to send year group ‘bubbles’ home to isolate and prevent further spread of the virus.

I have been privileged to talk with a large number of teachers from schools across the country over the last month both through webinars and one-to-one online meetings and I am amazed and impressed by the resilience shown by teachers as they cope with the challenges that teaching our subject under COVID restriction poses. One sentiment is continuously repeated in conversation with teachers: “It is so good to be back with the students, of course, it is challenging, but the kids have been great”.

We do the job that we do predominantly because of a love of teaching. That contact with students on a daily basis, building relationships, listening to their concerns and helping to guide their journey to adulthood is all part of being a good teacher and educator. So many teachers struggled with the lockdown earlier in the year because that contact had been removed completely; it simply cannot be replicated through online learning.

I think we are all starting to realise that COVID is not going to leave us any time soon. Talk is changing from how we can ‘return to normal’ to how can we adapt our lives to manage the virus safely and at the same time lead lives that are not restricted continuously, to quote Baz Luhrmann “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”. Adapting to live with COVID in the longer term requires a change of mindset for many; instead of being completely risk-averse, we will have to become adept at accurately assessing risks and managing them appropriately. I think we are all agreed that providing a consistent, high-quality educational experience for young people as we adapt to the COVID challenges has to be a government priority; the question is, do we need to step back from trying to force a return to how we were before and think differently?

Many government ministers casually cite young people’s mental health and well-being as the main reason why we need to return to ‘normal’ as soon as possible and get all students back to school and university. Ideally and without the continued presence of the virus, most of us would have no issue with this. Yet my experience dictates that unease and anxiety in young people (and adults for that matter) are most often caused by uncertainty and a lack of structure and order in their lives. Those in positions of power need to make sure that they are well informed, listen to experts both in health and in education and then be decisive; it is in their power to take away much of the uncertainty that blights young people at the moment.

As educators, we are preparing students for next summer with uncertainty on so many aspects of delivery, so do we need to cover the full curriculum content? Will the NEA requirements stand as they are, or will there be further adjustments? Will the examination schedule be moved back to allow additional time for teaching, or will it stand as planned? Will there be examinations at all, or will we face a situation where teacher assessments will be used as they were last year? These uncertainties are placing unnecessary pressure on students, teachers and parents, decisions made now would relieve anxiety and allow us to control what can be controlled.

One thing that my conversations over the last month have confirmed is that while we all reserve the right to have the occasional moan about our chosen profession, the vast majority of us love what we do and are dedicated to doing what is best for our students in these difficult times, I raise my hat to each and every one of you!

Tony Ryan

Chief Executive

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