There have been many shocking sights in this cursed year. For me, one of the most shocking has been the sight of comfortably off, Oxbridge-educated experts and journalists agitating for the closure of schools even though they know this will hit poor kids hardest.
Once again, depressingly, school closures are back on the agenda. SAGE says the only way we can get the current wave of Covid infections under control is by enforcing a proper lockdown, including the closure of schools and universities. Many in the media, long smitten with SAGE, agree. Teaching unions, who have perversely spent much of 2020 arguing for schools to be shut and kids to be kept at home, also want face-to-face learning to be put on hold. Patrick Roach of the NASUWT says we should revert to remote learning in January.
The government is erming and ahhing. It has decided to stagger the return of kids to classrooms in England. It seems that exam-year pupils -- Year 11 and Year 13 -- will return, but other secondary-school pupils will have to learn from home. Wales and Scotland have both delayed the start of the January term. Westminster might yet buckle and force more English schoolkids into the dreaded Zoom classroom -- a ridiculous parody of pedagogy.
For make no mistake -- it is those children who suffer most when schools are shut. Children who attend private schools did pretty well during lockdown.
The National Foundation for Educational Research found that 42 per cent of state-school children were not completing their work, and that 'pupils in the most disadvantaged schools were the least likely to be engaged with remote learning'.
There were big divides even among comprehensively educated students. The Sutton Trust found that kids in middle-class homes were twice as likely to take part in online lessons as kids in working-class homes. Forty-four per cent of middle-class children had spent four hours or more on schoolwork each day when schools were closed, compared with just 33 per cent of working-class children.
It isn't hard to see why. The less well-off a child's family is, the less likely that child is to have a computer, a quiet room to learn in, parents who have the time to assist with learning. When you push education out of the classroom and into the home, it is inevitable that social inequality will rear its ugly head.
I often think about what would have happened to my education if my school had been shut. There were six children in my family, all boys, all rowdy, and conditions were cramped. Our young parents were always busy, earning a living. We had one ZX Spectrum back then (which we fought over constantly); these days we'd probably have a laptop or two. There is just no way we would have learned. Our right to gain knowledge and expand our minds would have been halted. That is happening to millions of kids right now.
Yes, this new spike in infections is a genuine challenge. Yes, measures will have to be taken. However, a society that is indifferent to the education of the next generation is a society that has seriously lost its way. Education cannot stop. It must not stop. Even in the face of a health crisis like the one we are living through, we must find a way to keep kids in schools, accessing knowledge, sharpening their minds, enjoying their right to understand the world. I predict that future generations will look back on 2020, and possibly on early 2021, and be horrified that we stopped educating poor children.