6. Catch Up (Again).
One of the features of this crisis has been a feeling of deja-vu. Was it May or June last year when we heard the painful cries of public figures who were just so, SO worried about the gloomy future for our children?
Well, it felt that the whole of last week was given over to Catch-Up 2: The Catastrophe, the trailer to a disaster movie to be played out in real time. And coming to your screens shortly.
I screamed at the radio on Monday, shouted at the TV on Tuesday and attacked my laptop on Wednesday – as the same faces predicted ruin and disaster for this generation. The same faces who have got little idea what is actually happening in schools.
Because IT WAS HAPPENING BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, and very possibly as a direct result of some of the policies and ideologies they now wish to disown. The biggest culprit is probably Robert Halfon, closely followed by Justine Greening, though Labour politicians are just as guilty. You see, the destruction of communities began in the 1980s and no-one has yet to effectively address this, leaving neighbourhoods to dissolve into the consumerism and individualism deemed so vitally important for our economy. This is key to the chasm that has grown inexorably between the haves and the have-nots. So, it is now a bit rich to pin this on the fact that schools have been closed for a few weeks.
Furthermore, the emerging ‘catch-up’ ideas lack any kind of imagination and innovation. Worse still, they go against all available evidence. A tsar is appointed, Sir Kevan Collins, tasked with the job of leading the ‘catch-up’. As it happens, I have many ideas of what to do, but they will need their own blog (coming to a screen near you soon). But Sir Kevan seems a good guy, and as Sunday’s gospel tells us, Job’s remarkable survival, despite the most terrible afflictions raining down upon him, shows that goodness always finds a way through.
On Tuesday, we hold a fantastic staff meeting. So many teachers engaging and sharing their findings about online learning. We’ll probably never know exactly how effective each school’s response was during this period, but one thing is for sure – teachers have tried their bloody hardest, they really have. It appears we’ll always attract suspicion from the right-wing press who just cannot believe that we can work so hard, but it really is true.
Throughout the week, I feel restless given the amount of strategic work that’s required at the school, postponed because of the crisis management. School improvement plans, emergency budgets, deficit recovery plans, curriculum reviews, a £500,000 capital building project to begin. I can’t delay them any longer and yet there is such uncertainty at the moment that I can only go from month to month and it is unsettling. At least I’ve got a job; I feel so fortunate.
On Thursday, the governing body meet to consider our response since Christmas and discuss the above. They’re fantastically supportive and genuinely concerned for the well-being of the staff. In preparing for the meeting, I summarised what we’ve done since January 4th and I am proud of what we’ve achieved together, especially given the wintry chill that’s pierced each week since that day.
It’s freezing. It really is. Mercedes and I arrive back from school on Friday quietly elated that we’ve reached half-term, but that all disappears when we realise water is gushing out of the back of the house. Burst pipe. Our brilliant premises manager tells me what to do over the phone and the panic is over.
The week ends with a moment of true beauty. Dad has had a settled week in the hospital so I’ve scheduled a Zoom meeting with my Mum on Saturday. Then, later in the afternoon, we’ve arranged for Dad to join a family Mass, celebrated by his brother (and my uncle), a fantastic Jesuit priest.
The meeting with Mum is a little odd as he doesn’t recognise her. He opens with, ‘Is that my mother?’. He’s more interested in the pictures on the wall behind her head. But she gets comfort from seeing him and knowing he’s in safe hands. It’s the first time they’ve spoken to each other since the week before Christmas but it doesn’t show – both are now totally oblivious to any concept of time.
At Mass, the wider family is delighted to see Dad on screen, again settled and content. After the sign of peace, my uncle suggests we unmute and speak to each other. Well, Dad seizes the moment and launches into an improvised song which goes on and on. And on. At one point, I wonder whether my uncle will go full-on Jackie Weaver and eject Dad from the room. But he eventually stops his baritone solo, and there is a spontaneous round of applause before the ‘Lamb of God.’
So that’s the six weeks done. It starts with total chaos and ends with a sign of peace.
It’s clear that the rest of the academic year will be one of bubbles, masks and hand sanitiser. It won’t be normal. Will it ever be normal? And what is normal now?
But I know we cannot go back to what it was, and we cannot ‘catch-up’ in that respect.
We need something altogether more radical.