What Did We Learn From 2021?
I write this in the final week of term, barely able to believe that my team and I are once again working from home. The very day after the PM’s recent ‘Plan B’ announcement, colleagues in our office were reporting positive lateral flow tests and there were lots of cold-like symptoms around. We all dutifully booked PCR’s and I trundled off on a dark, wet evening to Tangmere Airfield in a scene that felt somehow reminiscent of a 1970s B movie. Three out of ten colleagues tested positive so here we are again, in our offices-in-the-loft or at the kitchen table for the umpteenth time since March 2020. Cancelled meetings and cancelled celebrations, but still the hard graft goes on in schools for a few more days. I know that some of you in schools have been having similar experiences of infections this month.
2021 is such a difficult year to review, because once again that infamous attention seeker, COVID-19, has sought to steal the show. But great things have happened in our school communities and in the Trust and we are putting the finishing touches to an upbeat annual report that will be distributed to staff and parents in the New Year.
I managed to visit 5 of our 8 schools in depth this term and found that each visit was inspiring and even moving in different ways. Talking to children, parents and carers, school leaders, teachers and support staff gave me a great insight into what the past 18 crazy months have been like for you all. The overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation felt by children and parents alike for all that schools have done to support them, and particularly the most vulnerable in the community, was genuinely heartwarming.
So I close the year with three things that we can learn from our unique journey over 2021; positive things that it’s important to focus on through the grey and the gloom of this week.
1) Children are incredible in their capacity to cope with change, but the vast majority really missed school
I was struck by how articulate pupils were in talking about their learning experiences during ‘lockdown school’ as some of them called it. Many were pleased with how well Google Classroom has worked and acknowledged the great efforts of teachers to make that successful. Some children even said that they felt they learned better at home at times. And the internal performance data provided by Insight & STAR shows that in some schools the skills of reading and writing continued to develop through blended learning.
But the overwhelming majority of children reported how much better their learning experience was in school and this is also backed up by much of the data, particularly regarding maths. In addition, we know that some families have really struggled with the juggling act of home-working, home-schooling and maintaining a good balance of work and relaxation. This is why it's so important that schools are not just focusing on ‘recovery’ and ‘catch-up’ but on the key role they play in enriching the lives of children culturally and in enjoyment as well as intellectually.
2) Suffering is never welcome, but can be a good teacher
We have all experienced suffering in new, different and challenging ways this year. It’s impossible and invidious to compare one person’s pandemic experience with another’s, but what we can be clear about is a commitment to keep learning.
One of Schoolsworks’ values is ‘cultivating curiosity’. A determination to be a lifelong learner is not just about acquiring knowledge from books and lessons - it is about learning from the highs and lows of life itself. For the adults in our school community, the challenge is for us to model this.
3) Resilience is for life, not just for Christmas
Given Plan B and Omicron, another Christmas which requires some resilience awaits us. Are we able to take the lessons we have learned personally, whatever our roles in the Schoolsworks community, into 2022? Will they help us to be more determined than ever to be the best version of ourselves in the coming year and to do our best for the people that really matter around us? I hope so.
I do wish you a very restful and happy Christmas break, however you are able to enjoy it and I look forward to working with you again in 2022. I dare not even wish it to be a more ‘normal’ year!
Chris Seaton, CEO