Catching up to what?

Michael Pettavel head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton. All views most definitely my own
Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Education is not a race, and children need quality time invested in them, says our columnist Michael Pettavel

Michael Pettavel: 'There is no national  strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic  on the  youngest'
Michael Pettavel: 'There is no national strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the youngest'

Well, here we are, a year into the most disrupted period in education in living memory. As we begin to edge our way out of the restrictions that have dominated our lives for so long, prepare yourself for a new lexicon of terms and approaches that aim to try to make sense of the world children now find themselves in. Catch-up is the one currently in vogue.

In the early years we are probably most aware of the range of starting points. As all children have had a disrupted school year, the question should not be ‘When will they catch up?’ but ‘Are we meeting their needs?’. The impact of coronavirus, in a world already beset by a mental health crisis (perhaps amplified by social media), would be best mitigated by ensuring children have the time to physically ‘belong’.

The concept of ‘catching up’ likens education to a race, one in which time is ‘lost’ and needs to be made up in the shortest possible window. Education cannot be reduced to a linear preparation if we don’t know what we are ‘preparing’ children for. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that resilience, transferable skills and community are the bedrock of a (mentally) healthy life in uncertain times.

I read the transcript of Gavin Williamson’s speech to the FED National Education Summit (1 March) with interest. In it he says, ‘What we cannot do and what we won’t do is write off any child.’ So, it seems strange that he already has. Every child under the age of five has been ‘written off’. The recovery grants put into the early years are minute to the point of non-existence; there is no national strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the youngest, most impressionable, vulnerable and by definition ‘in need’ members of our society. The children who arrive at a setting without ever having had social contact beyond their own home, the missed speech and language and paediatric appointments and much besides, all conspire to create a perfect storm in five or ten years’ time.

Now this is not about ‘catch-up’ but more to provide opportunities that allow for time. Time to interact, time to learn and, most importantly, time to provide the right intervention at the right time. It is not about reaching an arbitrary point in a curriculum, but to support the opportunities needed to create balance and emotional openings into a different world from the one we remember only one short year ago.

At the moment we still have no real concept of what effect the pandemic has had. Emergencies need immediate response – recovery needs time.

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