I haven’t been able to write since lockdown. Not properly. I’ve written a couple of articles, specific and structured ones, but nothing free-flowing and blog-like. Nothing where I just start writing and see what comes out, like I usually do. I’ve sat looking at an empty page many times over the last few months, wanting to express myself, but what I’ve wanted to say has been so big, so complex, so overwhelming that I’ve stepped away from the screen, knowing that whatever words might have come out would have been bitter, angry, born of frustration and rage that they would have been of no help to anyone.
I usually try to write things which have some positive takeaways, and end on an uplifting note, but I’ve got nothing like that in my kitbag right now, and I figured that there’s enough angst out there already for me to throw my proverbial chair leg on the fire.
But nine months after lockdown first started, it seems that all we have are fires, raging everywhere, and the words that I’ve been trying to suppress are escaping from their habitual realms, where I only visit in dark hours of a restless night, and instead are walking boldly into my waking day, my continual thoughts. They are clouding my horizon, like a dark host of spectres, so heavily that I can’t see a way through them. But I need to, because 2021 is here now, which will undoubtedly be the beta 1.1 upgrade on the hell that was 2020.
So, it’s time to open the lid on my Pandora’s box of emotions and let loose the demons lying within. Here goes.
I’m furious about so many things, I can’t even remember them all, but my real rage started with Edenred and grew from there.
Never in all my career have I come across such a ham-fisted screw-up on such a national scale. It could have been so easy, but the hours, days and weeks of frustration, anger and tears that resulted from the stubborn arrogance of an inept government to even pretend to consult with schools about how to deliver something as simple as free meals was the thing that hurt the most.
And that theme continued throughout the year. The fist-clenching wall-thumping collective fury of tens of thousands of school leaders, sharing many centuries of leadership experience between them, being utterly and pointedly ignored, was palpable and painful. And it cut deep. Our sheer frustration and disbelief at the exam fiasco was a united scream of pent-up rage which sounded in unison across the country for months, as blunder after blunder was foisted upon us.
Even the u-turns, when they came, were delivered with snide contempt, like that of a bully caught out and being forced to apologise to his victims and hand back the stolen lunch money. How a Department for Education can have such little engagement or consultation with its own school leaders is beyond astonishing. We sat and watched every national bulletin and press conference. We were repeatedly told that the cabinet was listening to the scientists on the correct path to take in order to manage the virus. We met and became familiar with those scientists and the leaders of health services who explained and led our national response. We understood the policy, the charts, the threat to health, and we supported it. We stood on our doorsteps and we clapped, cheered and bashed saucepans to show how much we supported and respected those health workers.
But there was no such respect for education. We never heard from an education leader about the plans for schools. We never once heard that the cabinet was taking advice from specialist educators about exam grade distribution, we never heard from any qualified professional about delivering online learning, about how to safely return to school in September or how best to deliver a catch-up programme for those students who had learning gaps. There was no educator standing on a lectern at a press conference despite us being told that education was a national priority.
What we had, instead, were a series of predetermined faits accomplis, foisted upon us with no consultation, no warning and no regard at all for our wellbeing or professional expertise. Every education announcement was either released at a national press conference, giving Headteachers no chance at all to prepare responses for their staff and school communities, or leaked to favoured journalists and dribbled out on social media, like a leaking colostomy bag, causing panic after panic, as school leaders struggled to stay afloat. Every contract was pre-approved to favoured suppliers, poorly managed and financially threadbare.
At no point was the teaching profession even shown the courtesy of being addressed directly, or privately, or ever once asked to contribute their opinions or advice on a single aspect of education policy. School support staff were all but ignored, with no guidance whatsoever on how they should remain safe in schools, and barely a nod to their existence, other than a stapled-on thankyou on some throwaway media tweet. We have been treated no better than cannon-fodder in a war for which we never enlisted.
As I write, yet another u-turn has been announced and Gavin WIlliamson once more careers the wrong way down a motorway, in a car he doesn’t have the skills to control. The skid marks he leaves on the education tarmac must only be matched by the skidmarks in hi