In recent weeks, SHINE has had the privilege of interviewing teachers and school leaders right across the North of England to understand their experiences of teaching disadvantaged children through COVID-19.
We have seen many stories of schools providing food, sanitary products and other basic essentials, as well as practical support to families in accessing welfare during the crisis. They have done so without hesitation, and with a quiet kindness that neither expects nor receives the recognition it deserves.
I am in awe of the people who are working so hard to keep the most vulnerable children safe and well. But we must also value the safety and wellness of school staff if we are going to emerge from COVID with the strong, resilient workforce that our children desperately need.
Schools in areas of disadvantage have always delivered much more than curriculum in the classroom. However, I worry at the consequences of schools being expected to do so much. If teachers are delivering food packages to homes, they can’t also be teaching. Schools are absolutely at the heart of the community, never more so than in times of crisis, but we need to leverage the full assets of the community around a school if we are to avoid placing unsustainable pressure on staff.
Too much of the debate in education is led by people for whom the poorest areas are places to be 'engaged' or ‘improved’ but not really listened to. As Marcus Rashford has shown, change is possible, but we cannot win the argument on facts alone. We have to tell better, more powerful stories of our own.
The #HolidaysWithoutHunger campaign became an enormously powerful vehicle for change, not because of the facts that show the damage that hunger does to children’s physical and cognitive development, but because Marcus Rashford told an incredibly powerful, and heartfelt, story.
For years, teachers in deprived areas have been trying to win the arguments based on hard facts. It is a fact, for example, that the current accountability system unfairly penalises schools in areas of high disadvantage, and that this makes it harder to attract and retain great teachers and leaders in the schools that need them most.
The trouble is, other, more powerful voices have promoted a different narrative – that poor educational results in deprived areas are down to poor teaching and ineffective schools.
For as long as we minimise the crises that schools in disadvantaged areas are battling, we will keep making the problem worse. Denying the effects, or even the existence, of child poverty, makes it an impossible problem to solve.
Too much of the debate in education is led by people for whom the poorest areas are places to be ‘engaged’ or ‘improved’ but not really listened to. As Marcus Rashford has shown, change is possible, but we cannot win the argument on facts alone. We have to tell better, more powerful stories of our own.