Our children – girl and a boy – aged 11 and nine, fared well, thanks to devices and internet. To supplement the lamentable online “schooling” from their state school, we hired a teacher for daily online lessons. When one child was learning live, the other was completing homework.
Encouraged, we challenged our children to find an additional tutor – in any subject, in any country. Using an app, my son selected an Argentinian-based coding teacher, whereas my daughter instructed a drama tutor, all the way from Lancashire. (The pound goes further in Argentina!) These weekly lessons continue. Through making their own choices, our children have reconfigured their view of education.
Naturally, I have inexhaustible sorrow for the children whom Covid eternally penalised. The gulf has widened. So, what to do? Treat Covid as an opportunity.
Historians will declare this time revolutionary: a promiscuous, Catholic Prime Minister; furlough extravaganza; exodus from the cities; Brexit; amber lists; space races; UFOs; wild climate; Tories in Hartlepool; national sporting success; and Natwest in profit.
Meanwhile, over at the Department for Education, it’s business-as-usual for our Gavin Williamson from Scarborough.
The aftermath of the First World War delivered women’s suffrage. The Second World War spawned the welfare state. Post-Covid, here is my uncosted education bucket-list, emanating from a new Education Rights Bill.
First, fundamentally restructure education and the status of educators: teachers should be atop the status hierarchy. Education should become a life-long process.
Double the pay of state schoolteachers and make it harder to qualify. Private school advantage will haemorrhage. Empower the teaching regulator. Looking back, all of us remember a teacher who saw something in us that nobody else did. Similarly, most of us remain embittered by a poor teacher, who caused our shameful grades.
Then, pay school governors, encouraging the best to apply, removing the cosy relationship with the Head. Lengthen the school day. I recommend six terms. Half the summer holidays, given that children no longer harvest. To improve traffic flow in an area, vary school start times. Country-wide, to end the extortionate cost of foreign holidays, term times should vary.
Each child – state school or private – should be given a budget, managed by their carers, to purchase their schooling, as well as any extracurricular activities, additional lessons, clothing and school meals.
Want to learn fencing or horse riding? Fine. Higher budgets for poorer children and those with special needs. Parents can add to the pot, as they do already. Granny can buy Latin lessons as a gift. The State should have a statutory obligation to provide a free device with free internet.
Each citizen – not just children – should be given an encrypted, personalised education dashboard, a repository for all our educational activities and results, from cradle to grave. One-third of lessons ought to be streamed, available for anyone in the world. If children are poorly, isolating or on holiday, they can watch later.
Private schools could maintain their charitable status, only if they stream one-third of their lessons. Want to know what Eton is like? Then attend their lessons, either live or watch on-demand later. Didn’t understand the lesson? Go over it again in your own time.
Whilst a British education remains prized, with English the world’s lingua franca, by exporting our online lessons for free to our former colonies, and at cost to others, we can culturally lead. A bulwark against Chinese domination, with its impenetrable Mandarin.
Tripadvisor-style reviews from pupils and carers should inform school rankings. With so many online lessons for anyone to view, the best teachers will become celebrities. Scrap Ofsted, SATS and GCSEs.
Employers who received furlough cash must provide work experience opening-up the professions. School buildings and playing fields must be opened up to their communities. And like at Hogwarts, children should be allocated a House, with online competitions. Finally, as a right, our children demand clean air, both inside and outside of school.
Andrew Gray is a father, entrepreneur and solicitor who works in Leeds and Harrogate. He is a former teaching assistant.
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