If anyone knows who I should talk to, please let me know. Is it Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary? Does he have a plan to prevent thousands of youngsters suffering severe educational failure if lockdown continues and schools stay shut for months? He certainly needs one.
Virtual learning is all very well if you can access it. Headteachers in some schools are saying at least 40 per cent of pupils don’t have a computer at home.
Many have no internet access or phone either, or live in difficult circumstances that make learning impossible.
Figures from the Sutton Trust, an educational charity, suggest only 23 per cent of pupils took part in a live or recorded session online every day during the first week of lockdown.
What about the rest? Don’t they need help? Isn’t this where volunteers could step forward, delivering teaching materials direct to their door if necessary? I don’t mind driving (and social distancing).
Teachers already have their hands full. If they’re not rewriting material to make them suitable for virtual learning, they’re devising schemes to help the transition to the next school year successful or giving feedback to pupils stuck at home worrying themselves sick that they are missing “proper” school.
As the mother of two teenagers and with a decade’s worth of teaching in a university behind me, I would love to be able to put my skills and experience to use. I’ve also mentored teenagers and adults and done projects in primary schools to improve literacy and develop self-confidence.
I’m on hand for my own son and daughter, obviously. However, Jack’s broadcasting journalism college course has pretty much been put on hold; his projects involve vox-pops and studio interviews. He’s passing his time working in a supermarket.
And Year Nine pupil Lizzie, who studies dutifully in scheduled online slots with her friends, is almost entirely self-sufficient. I was quite honoured the other day when she actually asked for my advice on a William Wordsworth assignment. It felt good to talk about the best use of a semi-colon.
Sure, I’ve been looking after my elderly parents and in-laws, checking in with friends and far-flung family regularly and trying to be a good neighbour.
I’ve got the garden ready for summer, made a plant germinator in the bath, caught up with odd jobs, experimented with economical meals and painted my parents’ garden fence (observing correct social distancing, of course). I recently became a school governor and enjoyed my first Skype meeting last week. And I am still working, as far as possible. However, I keep feeling I should be doing more.
The problem is what? The NHS has more than 750,000 volunteers but – by all accounts – doesn’t know what to do with them. Do they really want me adding my name to the list?
I’ve looked locally too, but the estimable volunteers from the local sports club are dealing with helping the housebound. I can’t just stick a pin in the phone book and befriend a lonely person.
At the beginning of lockdown, fired up by the spirit of ‘What did you do in the war, Mother?’, I contacted several MPs and the local council and volunteered my services if they needed help with communicating important messages to the public. I haven’t heard back so can only assume they have it covered.
Several friends are sewing scrubs for the NHS. Another is knitting dolls in nurse and doctor uniforms for hospital charities.
My needlework skills are limited, let’s say. And I’m rubbish at fundraising as I always feel guilty asking people for money they might not have.
But I’m not the only one feeling like this. If enforced isolation has taught us anything, it is self-reflection. Most of us will have spent a few lonely hours awake in the middle of the night analysing our own strengths and weaknesses.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting we’re useless at some things and good at others.
It’s not about being particularly clever or well qualified. It’s about natural aptitude and life experience and wanting to give something back.
Even before this crisis, the holes in education provision in our region already threatened to impact on social mobility and economic development for decades to come.
I’d like to think I could help fill just a few.
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