As we approach the end of the academic year, and with schools opening their doors to more pupils, attention has turned to how we might respond to the Covid-19 crisis in what has been termed a ‘recovery curriculum’.
There are essentially two prevalent thoughts at play here:
- What gaps have developed in terms of student learning?
- What emotional and mental damage might have been caused?
In both of these perspectives, the problem with the term ‘recovery curriculum’ emerges – the assumption of damage.
Now, it’s important to acknowledge that being out of school for potentially six months (assuming we do return in September, which is a large assumption) might have significant ramifications both in terms of the academic and the emotional status of our students. The idea that such a period without schooling could have a dramatically detrimental effect upon the academic attainment of our students seems self-evidently obvious – it’s a huge length of time. And the emotional consequences of lockdown, the lack of social interaction, and potential bereavements could be severe.
In all cases, the impact upon the vulnerable and the impoverished could lead to a widening of the attainment gap and for some, being stuck at home all day might be genuinely dangerous.
So it is easy to see why the language of ‘recovery’ might hold an appeal. We need to recover from the crisis in the same way that patients need to recover from the virus itself.
However, I think there is a danger that in our attempt to heal we might inadvertently exacerbate the symptoms. If we tell ourselves that we have all experienced a traumatic event, then we might begin to perceive trauma where there is none, and to miss genuine need. And as we clamour to console ourselves, we might miss the great opportunities before us – opportunities to think more carefully about how we could embrace the unprecedented, historic times in which we live. Now is an ideal time to test our ideas about curriculum and pedagogy, to preserve what works, and to dismiss what does not.
This is not to dismiss the genuine concerns about what our students need from us. We need to have proper conversations about what that might be. But let’s conduct those conversations in an informed and considered way. It is the curriculum for teachers and other staff in schools that is perhaps in most urgent need of addressing – what do we need to know in order to prepare for the eventual return to school of all our students? What should our September inset days include?
The first and last answer to that is, of course, safeguarding. And it is through that lens that we must view any ideas about how we best help our students. But then, what else do we need to know? Perhaps we should familiarise ourselves with trauma informed practice. I know this idea is not held in universally high regard amongst the neo-research-enlightened edutwitterati.
There are two traps before us. The first is the trap of believing that everything is traumatic, and that all of our students are in a state of constant trauma. The second trap is that of believing that trauma informed practice has nothing to teach us. A similar set of traps lay before us with regard to attachment theory. This too might have something to tell us about how students – and adults – might react to the Covid-19 event. What is needed, of course, is the pragmatic position that exists beyond the inevitable dichotomies.
Some might argue that the ‘recovery curriculum’ should be academic in nature – that schools must immediately return to their core purpose of academic attainment. The academic damage done by this vast absence from school must be remedied by summer schools, weekend classes, and a hard focus on rapid rigour.
I would challenge the view that the purpose of schooling is academic. At least, I would suggest that the academic must serve the pastoral. But that’s a topic for another time.