Following our recent ‘Imagining the Future Normal’ webinar looking at education post-lockdown, Real Ideas Project Lead and former headteacher Gary Futcher reflects on the way ahead.
Schools and teachers and support staff have had it tough. They’ve had to adjust to the new lockdown world, turning on sixpences at the shifting dictates from on high, coping as all that was previously concrete becomes something molten and fluid. Schools closed, exams cancelled, learning online and an explosion of digital content to support both teachers and hard-pressed home-working parents.
And now it’s about reopening, with dates seemingly plucked at whim and more attuned to the needs of the wheels of the economy and childcare than the purpose of, well, education. And so, schools have faced reams of (ever-changing) advice and instruction from government, told not to implement rota systems when the scientific advice suggested that might be best, to do this, do that and, perhaps most gallingly, to pull their socks up and be heroes.
Beyond all this noise of the hard logistics of getting physically re-opened there has been more important, richer talk. Talk that begins to question the sort of education we want for our children, the constraints of the hugely reductive examinations-led system, the gaps that lockdown has laid bare for many in our society – not even glue and paper in a home let alone the digital connectivity to make use of the plethora of digital resources that appeared – and just what the future normal might be for education and educators.
At one level it has sounded sharply clinical; what does government talk of re-socialisation smack of more than a sense that children have gone feral in the absence of school? But more empathetic language has also emerged, one that talks of recovery, a genuine thinking about what children, staff and communities will need from schools in the months and years to come and which begins to think differently about the very purpose and practice of education.
It was this theme that formed the focus of a recent Real Ideas webinar I hosted titled ‘Imagining the Future Normal: Exploring Education Post-Lockdown’. Featuring panellists with a range of perspectives, it was designed to be both thought-provoking, positive, the start of a conversation and – perhaps – even a movement. After all, as Maya Angelou, the great American writer once said, ‘there’s nothing so strong as an idea whose time has come’.
Many of its themes have been bubbling away for some time only to be brought to the surface by lockdown and they were neatly encapsulated by a series of hashtags one audience member tweeted after the webinar:
‘really uplifting to hear an #education debate discussing #love #trust #community #connection #hope #empowerment’.
They also chime with the contributions of the webinar panellists, whether the well-known (but under-valued) proverb espoused by Dave Sammels – ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ – the HEART values of Cabot Learning Federation, the Trust Kate Richardson works for or the ‘whole education’ philosophy of Seb Chapleau’s Big Education Conversation. They also speak to the views of our own Matt Little, shared in his recent blog.
From a personal perspective those hashtags have underpinned the work we have been doing at Real Ideas for some time to support arts, culture, creativity and digital opportunity as part of a rich school provision, work that had been positively supported by the most recent Ofsted (remember them?) framework, with its re-focus on breadth and balance in the curriculum and recognition of the importance of cultural capital. It’s also work that has been bolstered by the creative explosion of activity in lockdown homes across the country, as home-working parents appreciate the power and impact of arts, creativity and digital solutions to sustain and soothe families as well as meaningfully fill the education gap.
What the past few COVID months have done is help us refine our education work going forwards, shaping it around our expertise and its place in supporting recovery, with a re-focus on the importance of community, wellbeing and digital equality. And because I’m a sucker for a bit of alliteration, we’ve articulated this by way of 4Cs:
  • Creativity – shaping opportunities for young people to apply knowledge, skills and intuition to imagine, conceive, express and make.
  • Culture – building the rich cultural capital around us into the curriculum and, crucially, taking a school’s individual context as the starting point.
  • Connection – exploring immersive, responsive, tech-savvy digital ideas, kit and access to the world of work.
  • Community – linking to real, socially enterprising, place-based opportunities, funding and expertise, with schools placed firmly at the heart of their communities.

But for us, this process isn’t just about ideas; it’s about real sleeves-rolled-up action and (socially distanced) arms-around-the-shoulder support for schools and educators. Lockdown has seen us organising Let’s Create arts and crafting packs and getting them to schools for families who need them; creating creative-techy-making Future Make Future Make video challenges for children; launching FromLockdownWithLove to capture and celebrate the positive creativity of children and families; curating links to help teachers and parents navigate the wealth of online resources out there; and providing effective advice and support just when it’s been needed.

All these things have helped in the here and now but we’re not going anywhere once the pandemic dust has settled. We will continue to work with schools long after lockdown to deliver and help make practical connections to broaden curriculums, to ensure vulnerable families are looked after, to shape digital opportunities, to build a community of engaged and experienced doers who care and are great at having real ideas to make stuff just that little bit better.
After all, there’s no heading back in the direction of the same old same old. Because the future normal for education is a set of ideas whose time has come.
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