James Moore, The Independent
A question for parents: do you think “yay, school’s out” on Friday night before taking a deep dive into a beverage produced from grain or grape containing ethanol? You might have learned the chemical formula for that over the past week, hey.
Do you wake up on Saturday and think, you know what, I’m not going to say a word if they want to spend the whole day glued to the Xbox/PlayStation/Nintendo Switch (delete as appropriate)? I’ll feel guilty but sometimes it’s the only way.
If you do I’m not going to judge. We’ve been there too.
Homeschooling is hell. The long, locked-down days are regularly disturbed by explosive outbursts, and/or tears, even now online classes are up and running.
Misery loves company and there’s a lot of company to be had judging from the social media postings of similarly frazzled parents.
Here’s a question that applies to only some of them. Having come to an understanding of how hard it is to educate children, why are you throwing bricks at people who have to handle not just one or two, or maybe three, but thirty? Maybe even more, given the underfunding of schools by a government dominated by people whose parents had the means to opt-out of the state system.
The vitriol dished out to the teaching profession has reached such a fever pitch that the head at one London school was this week moved to write a letter describing how some parents at Woodridge Primary School in North Finchley had “taken advantage” of online learning platforms to send “highly critical messages of advice to teachers about how to do their jobs”.
It isn’t hard to see why. The last thing a newly qualified teacher (NQT) needs, having accumulated a five-figure debt after four years at university, is to have to deal with an entitled PR man, or banker, or media type acting like a bush league Ofsted inspector.
Headmaster Colin Dowland wrapped up his missive with a challenge: “Can I encourage all those particular parents, who now consider themselves to be educational experts, to sign up for teacher training at their earliest convenience, since there are never enough teachers and I suspect many will be leaving the profession after this year.”
I doubt there’ll be many takers. Per the proverb, the noisiest parents have the emptiest heads, heads that are far too empty to cope with the demands of a PGCE, followed by the brutal work schedule NQTs are faced with for a lot less money than they make.
I vividly remember my wife looking like a zombie come half term in her first year on the job, and I doubt that’s changed much. She nonetheless worked through large chunks of it. Conscientious teachers don’t get anything like the 13 weeks holiday some parents fondly imagine they enjoy. But while a handful of know-nothings tormenting NQTs are bad enough, there are organised groups out there that are even worse.
UsForThem is one. It’s pushing for teachers, classroom assistants and other staff to be thrown into the viral hot zones that schools can easily become. My children’s experience graphically demonstrated this, and newsletters informed us of new cases daily.
This group has been campaigning against masks, the absence of which would ramp up the risks teachers would be exposed to. It has, according to reports, secured meetings with Department for Education civil servants, with the assistance of a Tory lobbyist. This is contrasted with the views of Parents United Against Unsafe Schools, which despite being a much larger group, has not been able to secure a Whitehall meeting.
Boris Johnson’s cabinet has the look of a string of blue Christmas lights in the middle of a power cut at the best times, but education secretary Gavin Johnson’s bulb was broken before they were even switched on. This hapless minister continuing in his post says an awful lot about the prime minister’s priorities.
Look, I’m as keen for schools to reopen as anyone. While we’re lucky enough to have ample IT resources, unlike some of the kids from less fortunate backgrounds who are barely getting any education at all right now, we have a child with high functioning autism who relies on the routine and structure school provides. This makes our need acute.
But I’m pleased to say that while both my kids want to be back too, they appreciate their teachers and they don’t want them put at risk any more than we do.
When children do go back, they are going to need teachers to educate them. I worry about that. The teaching profession has been in the midst of a recruitment crisis for as long as I can remember. It explains the constant stream of sugar-coated ads the DfE runs.
The idea that the economic crisis will ameliorate this is horribly complacent. Thousands of them are said to be contemplating quitting even if it means a spell of unemployment. Some may look abroad, where their skills are in demand.
The government presiding over teacher-bashing as a national sport, consorting with fringe groups, and its unwillingness to listen to more sensible voices, including unions, is going to make a bad situation worse.
When Mr Dowland’s moany parents have had a chance to think about his letter, they might care to turn their fire on Mr Williamson and his chums – that’s if they want to avoid either empty classrooms or having them stuffed full of 50 kids in every lesson. If the more supportive parents join them, it might create a movement for reform. Reform and a change in society’s attitude is what’s desperately needed if our children are to catch up and recover what they’ve lost.
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