Reopening schools – or expanding provision to more and more pupils – must be done so using a gradual and phased model. Even in the Isle of Man, where the curve has been flattened and there are now no active cases, we must be cautious and aware of the potential risks that schools – ergo “mass gatherings” – may present to the local circumstances. Scientists, medics and politicians continue to warn us that “no known cases” does not equate to the Isle of Man being “virus free” and complacency is the most dangerous factor which may contribute to a sudden spike or second wave of COVID19. An immediate – full – reopening of schools, because the “threat has passed”, would be reckless and irresponsible.
However, that does not mean that we should not, and cannot, begin opening the doors to more children and monitoring and evaluating the effect of that on the infection and case rate across the Island. And the low infection rate, and nil case load, does mean that our caution can be tempered with optimism. That means increased speed and increased dexterity.
School leaders and teachers have spent a lot of time preparing for an uncertain landscape. This has meant considering several contingencies and planning for multiple scenarios. Risk assessments, classroom layouts, entrance and exit procedures, and safety policies and protocols have been put into place, and whilst some important questions still demand satisfactory answers to be given, none of that should be insurmountable. So schools are gearing up, and here in the Isle of Man we will be welcoming children from the hub sites back to their natural schools on the 17th June and the first set of year groups from the 22nd June.
However, it will not be “business as usual” from day one. Physical distancing, reduced social mixing and a phased re-introduction of pupils over time (albeit, over a quicker timeline than perhaps originally conceived) means that schools will look and operate differently to how they had done previously. With some children in school, and others continuing with home-learning, and with the various measures required to manage the gradual return of pupils, schools (and pupils and parents) will need their expectations to be routed in pragmatic foundations.
The good school curriculum should remain under constant review, ever evolving in response to children’s needs and interests; ever adapting to the strengths and passions of those delivering it; ever reflecting the values and ethos of the school; and ever reacting to the community, society and world in which we find ourselves. The good school curriculum is not fixed, it moves with the ebbs and tides of research, policy, need and resource. The good school curriculum is in a state of constant flux.
School leaders who appreciate this focus their efforts on managing that flux, recognising its long-term nature means we should plan to avoid sudden spikes and extreme changes in direction and content.
The recent medium-term school closures – whether partial or fully – coupled with a move to remote learning packages, has meant that that steady state of flux is now very unbalanced. The school curriculum is potentially abandoned; deviation has undoubtedly occurred either by content or pedagogy and probably by both; quality assurance will be missing and the pillars upon which it was built (values, drivers, outcomes and starting points) will likely have been the early casualties in the changes schools have been forced to make.
None of this is to say that schools have done nothing to address their values, planned content and long term outcomes. But it needs to be recognised that the state of flux within the curriculum – whatever model of curriculum a school has developed – will have increased significantly.
Therefore, post-covid, the first task for schools to address regarding the curriculum will be to steady that flux. Not to deny it. But to steady it. Regulate it. Bring it back under control.
One phrase that has made an appearance in common education parlance of late is “recovery curriculum.” But for me, the issue at hand is not the establishment of a “recovery curriculum” but a gradual recalibration and control of the existing curriculum. That is not to say that schools should not pay heed to the potential well-being and anxiety issues that advocates of a recovery curriculum would have us place front and centre. Of course, that is going to be vital. But the wider challenge is doing that whilst focussing on small curricula aspects and getting them (a) right; and (b) consistent for all, whether at school, home or transitioning from one form of education to the other.
Stabilising the flux requires schools to prioritise aspects of its curriculum – and to do so in two ways: (1) which are the most crucial in terms of a child’s learning and development; and (2) which are the simplest to achieve in the quickest amount of time (i.e which are the easy wins)? The decisions made here will not be easy but a clear plan of where to focus, and how and when to move on, is a strategic must. This is the recovery curriculum – the prioritisation of what needs to be brought back under control, the decisions about where and how to amplify content and pedagogy messaging, and the strategy or roadmap for timeframes and next steps. In my own setting – a two school federation – we have placed our initial efforts on handwriting, presentation and quality outcomes in order to rebuild high expectations and pride / ownership amongst our pupil community. Content will play second fiddle to that initially. We are also rolling out a well-being audit and a focus on reflections from the covid lockdown. This, we felt, would help regain purpose and engagement by bringing a relevance and experiential element to our work.
By deliberately accentuating, focusing and working on chosen aspects, and gradually manipulating those elements to restore the flux to a controllable state, schools can bring about a renewed sense of calm, purpose and engagement.
Bringing the curriculum flux back to a manageable state is no mean feat, and progress towards this objective can be marked along the way by various milestones, or recovery goals, the ultimate being a refreshed curriculum offer that is accessible again to all of the pupils.
At this point in my blog there could be a continuing tension between what is meant as a “recovery curriculum” – something designed to address wellbeing and mental health; or a “recovery phase” for a curriculum to re-stabilise, as described above. For surety, my argument concerns the latter, and proposes recovery goals which empower individual settings and practitioners to make the decisions needed to provide a curriculum that is adaptable and responsive to the diverse needs of individual learners and which reflects the uniqueness of their communities.
Recovery goals can apply just as readily to the participants (learners) as they can to the content and delivery. Ensuring that learners are ready to learn by addressing anxieties and tensions arising out of extended periods of lockdown and absence from the school environment are also worthy and necessary goals. A recovery goal for every pupil to be ready for immersion within your curriculum offer is surely an essential one.
As with all goals and targets, the strategy towards meeting them will need action planning, and some of the fine operational detail will build on the broader job of restorative manipulation across the global view of the school curriculum.
The move should be towards a replenished offer which encompasses and takes account of the local circumstances of children and their families. In addition, any replenished offer arising out of this recovery phase is likely to recognise more explicitly that good health and wellbeing is fundamental in ensuring that children and young people can engage effectively in their learning. Some of the restorative manipulation and subsequent recovery goals in this area are, I predict, going to stick.