Once I’d recovered from that, A Paper I Don’t Buy appeared on my dinner table courtesy of a visit from my mother-in-law. It had a front page news story about online parents’ evenings. These, says the Recovery Tsar, are the answer to a problem I’m pretty certain has never previously hit the front page, secondary school parents’ evenings’ congestion. Slick software doles out time in packaged 5-minute blocks that the most loquacious pedagogue or parent can’t subvert. All schools are trying this. Conversations are focused, what’s not to like?
Oh tell us, Luddite, I hear you groan, above the wind outrageously buffeting year seven happily around the yard.
My own children were at the school I last led so their father did parents’ evenings. He had a flexible job, a speedy bicycle, a notebook he used each year, a preference for facts over speculation and a brisk manner. Online parents’ evenings would suit him just fine. Not perhaps so for other parents who like to get to know a teacher, or are less confident being upfront about what they want to know, or shy, or worried, bewildered, at home in another language, without hardware or software or the leisure to learn how to use it. Or who just prefer the humanity of face-to-face meetings.
The story in the paper took a particular view of parents’ evenings focusing on what a pain it is to find a parking space and how annoying the queues are. Really? I know people who’ll queue round the block to get into a cool new restaurant or buy a street food shrimpburger. Music festivals and holiday parks are just one long queue with intermittent entertainment. Why is a queue to talk to your child’s teacher suddenly the worst thing in the world?
I’m undecided on online parents’ evenings so far, but I know that some people can’t use them and some people might never enter their children’s school that’s the solution, which would be a loss. I was shocked that the Tsar declared himself so early and immoderately in favour, bedecking himself with flimsy middle-class tropes. It didn’t look as though he was using a very long dipstick and it made me think the less of him.
I also thought: front page? Who owns the software?
Today brought a piece from another news provider which used public sources to tot up which individuals have the most impact at the jolly old Dept for Ed. There are five of them, not including the Recovery Tsar, though the pointy-elbowed so-called Behaviour Tsar is right in amongst it. Even looking at the next few on the list aren’t very representative. I reckon only one-and-a-bit of them actually work in a school, and one of the others certainly has a software interest. What kind of dipsticks are they?
Down among the oily parts on planet Tallis we’re coping with imponderables. First, Teacher-Assessed Grades. This is hours upon hours of work the exam boards, whom we are still paying in full, usually do. Second, Covid. Despite the national cheeriness we’ve had an upsurge in cases. Every one has an effect on our community, of lost teacher or learner time and having to make do as best we can. Third, terrible weather.
Here’s what could help us. Exam boards giving us some money back or at the very least stopping saying that they’re also working harder than usual, which can’t possibly be true. An end to stop presses that teachers can’t assess fairly and will only give the right grades to clever pleasant students, as if we were all corrupt or stupid. A moratorium on doomsday forecasts of the effect of lost learning on poor children’s futures: social mobility had stopped long before everyone started coughing. No lemming-rush towards social mixing and foreign holidays. Some sunshine on the yard.
I overtook a pair of ambling year 12s on my way out of the rain this week. The shorter, not a model of industry in year 11, said to the taller ‘It is what it is. You’ve just got to get on with it.’ I backed this sound general advice so he offered me more ‘He’s a capable lad. He just needs to stick in’ as if he were a forty-year classroom veteran. Reaching the hall I goggled at ENTRANCE and EXIT ONLY signs, next to each other on the same door. In staying phlegmatic under ridiculously competing vicissitudes, I have much to learn from the young.
I’m perfectly happy with party politics and a free press. I put up with exam-obsessed schooling and I’ve even grown to love a clipboard. What I cannot bear is a feeling that decisions are made by or to placate people at such a distance from schools that you can’t see them with a telescope. Here’s a message for all Tsars and the ministers who own them: stop justifying yourselves and endure with us for a while. Develop a preference for facts over speculation. Find a longer dipstick.