Less than three weeks ago I wrote a post about ‘closing schools’. I concluded by saying that:
‘We are better equipped to deal with unforeseen events these days, whether fire, floods or pestilence; but only if we plan for them.’
Last night, I was talking live on a local radio station when the news about school closures was being announced. I was immediately struck by the very lack of planning I had suggested was needed. Obviously, no announcement was made about the consequences for the examination system and the knock-on effects about entry to higher education this autumn. True, that doesn’t need to be solved immediately, but it is a major worry for a group of young people and their parents.
Of more concern, not least in rural areas and other locations with small schools, was the statement about children falling into two groups: those of key workers and those regarded as ‘vulnerable’.
With budgets devolved to schools, decisions the education of children in these groups may have to be made at the level of the school site. Firstly, there needs to be agreement of those actually falling into each category. Secondly, for small schools, what happens if all the staff are either off sick or self-isolating: who takes responsibility? Clearly, MATs can handle decisions across their family of schools, if the finding agreement allows. But what of other schools?
My initial reaction, live on local radio, was to call for a strategic group in the local area formed from the Anglican and Roman Catholic diocese and arch-diocese, the largest Multi-Academy Trusts in the area and the local authority.
The local authority can coordinate transport and special needs and work with the other groups on ensuring a skeleton of schools are able to open, even if staff are asked to move schools. There is no point in every small rural primary school staying open for just one or two children, unless it can also in those circumstances take other children as well.
This is where the lack of planning ahead in a society dedicated to individual freedom and choice has created a set of questions we are ill-equipped as a society to answer. Is it right for government just to dump the problem on its citizens, or should it take a more interventionist approach: especially to ‘so called public services’? It is interesting that in transport the approach to services in London by the Mayor seems much more coordinated.
Perhaps this crisis will finally bring home to policy-makers the need for a coherent middle tier in education, able to do more than arrange school transport and adjudicate on school offers.
Faced with the prospect of schools being closed until September, and the possible default of some schools in the private sector as they lose their summer term fee income, there needs to be some coherent planning, both for the closure and an orderly return to a fully functioning sector. You only have to search back through this blog to know how I feel we might move forward.