The Educator's PLN

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I've been intrigued by the language of "catch up" which has come from government ministers and even the Children's Commissioner. The idea that lockdown has resulted in lost learning and a widening of the gap can't be disputed but it is the solutions put forward by government which has revealed the reductive nature of the government's attitude to learning and to young people. To reduce education and learning to an accumulation of facts devoid from any contextual influence is just simply naive. Where it is government policy, that naivety has the potential to exacerbate mental ill health and delay learning.

In the minds of ministers it is a simple equation. Lost learning = lost fact acquiring = lower exam scores. Solution? Lost learning = more learning = more hours spent trying to remember facts = pass test.

But let's apply the knowledge that we have that this global pandemic, this once in a lifetime event  has had an impact on a student's ability to learn. If a child has or is, anxious about whether they will be able to get enough food, enough sleep or whether their parent or carers will have enough money to put a roof over their head, this will have an impact on their ability to learn. If a child is concerned about what the virus might do to them or their loved ones, it will have an impact on their ability to learn. These are all basic needs which to a greater or lesser extent will have been unmet during the pandemic.

Let's move onto Maslow's next category of need. This is the need for love and belonging. Friendship, intimacy, family and a sense of connection. Wow! How much has that been impacted during the pandemic!! Children who've not been able to see grandparents or in some cases parents, not been able to see friends because school has been closed for them or even when they were allowed to go they were bubbled. All of this affects their self esteem, status, strength/resilience and freedom. All of this affects a child's ability to learn.

The final aspect of Maslow's hierarchy of need is the ability to have some forward momentum in life and probably those who have felt this the most are those who have been hampered at the point of transition. But in many cases this has affected their sense of purpose, mission and forward momentum that we should all get as we move through the education system. This will affect their ability to learn.

What our children need is recovery not catch up. If an athlete in a race pulls a muscle and falls behind we don't ask them to run faster or harder or for longer, we put them through a period of recovery and it is the same with learning.

We need a plan for each school to take Maslow's hierarchy of needs and assess each pupil on the damage which has been done by their experience of the pandemic. Notice I mentioned schools and teachers doing this work? We don't need a central instruction from government. Our schools and their staff know the children better than all but parents and let's work with parents to address the foundations of wellbeing before addressing the catch up.

We then have a strong foundation to build learning upon. Doing this work, helping our children mend will have the most profound impact on their ability to learn. 

The early noises from the "Catch Up Tsar" Sir Kevan Collins ( a professional for whom I have the utmost respect) are encouraging but a Maslow assessment of need is vital if we are to know how our children are struggling and how we as a profession can help them to address those factors that will affect their ability to learn.

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