Theodore Roosevelt once said: ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing’.
Heads have overcome a multitude of challenges over the past 18 months; everything from giving up sports halls to serve as community vaccination centres to ensuring students have the right devices and connectivity to continue their learning at home. Heads and teachers have worked incredibly hard to ensure children have experienced as little disruption to their education as possible.
And Heads would be the first to hold their hands up and admit where things have gone wrong – where mistakes have been made, where the scale of the challenge has been underestimated. Education is, after all, all about exploring new ideas, exploring new concepts and practising, so that we learn as we go. So, we must have the same expectation of policy makers. Whilst none of us have ever lived and worked through a global pandemic, we must all learn, adapt and take action.
Gavin Williamson has announced that the move to step 4 of Covid restrictions will include changes to the bubble system that has seen 385,000 children out of school this week, but we now know that no data is held on how many of those sent home test positive, so the number of infections prevented is also unknown. The basis for any policy decision is a cost-benefit analysis. As the cost of taking children out of face-to-face education is quite obvious, and the benefit is simply not known, it makes it even harder for schools to justify this approach continuing.
Schools need certainty so they can plan, adapt and take action to protect their pupils and staff, and in consequence protect a significant proportion of our country’s workforce. Schools need to know what will replace bubbles and when any successor system will be introduced. They need to be able to plan, perform risk assessments and test their approaches. Heads need to know now before they take incredibly well-deserved breaks. Delay and dither will only make delivering any new system more challenging, as we have seen so recently with the debate over assessment this summer and last.
Certainty is essential to resolving this situation – ministers briefing newspapers that schools do not need to send whole year groups home (Telegraph front page 1/7/21) help nobody. Continuing obfuscation only makes things harder for Heads, who have to make the horrible decision to send individuals home, knowing full well how much some will be potentially harmed by it.
This issue needs the Government’s full attention, much more so than the current concerted effort to ban mobile phones from classrooms. But as Teddy Roosevelt suggested, the damage of no decision far outweighs the negatives of further delay and confusion.
Written by Dr Simon Hyde, General Secretary of HMC.