Real Education is Relational – especially in a Pandemic

Recognising positive educational opportunities provided by the current crisis

What’s been said?

Two articles: Why you shouldn’t worry about ‘getting behind’ by Ross Mountney, posted in her Notebook on 27 April, and Why my pupils and I have spent lockdown on an allotment by Lilly Wyatt (Tes, 5 May) provide an opportunity to reflect on the type of education which children respond to positively.

Mountney’s brief article begins by debunking the worry about children ‘getting behind’ because they’re unable to attend school. Highlighting some of the negatives of a system which for her has become “less about what’s good for the child and more about what’s good for the politics,” she asserts that true education has no ‘in front’ or ‘behind.’

“This time at home away from the normal institutions,” she reassures parents plunged into home schooling without warning, “is an opportunity for your children to develop those other aspects of themselves… that they never get the chance to develop in the treadmill of school.”

Can parents find the courage to think outside the box and grasp this time now as “an education in itself” – even thought it looks very different from the “grade getting, measured process that most parents equate with education”?

If nurtured though what is a “major emotional trauma” for everyone, Mountney is confident that young people can emerge with valuable personal skills for later life – including that all important ability “to think creatively enough to solve [the] challenges life throws at you.”

Wyatt, a pupil premium coordinator at Chiswick School in West London, is thoroughly enjoying her experience of lockdown because she has been spending her days at the school allotment with two groups of children. “They love being at the allotment,” she writes, “but I think I love it even more.”

This is a possibility because the Head made the decision to provide for “vulnerable students, the children of key workers, and students with special needs” not via hours of online learning, but instead “to deliver engaging activities as well as focusing on academic study: dance, art, cooking and allotment sessions, all while following social distancing guidelines.”

A younger and an older group of children attend the allotment from the average of ten students who are in school each day. The younger ones bring boundless energy to their work, never talking about the virus, but seeming to “live fully in the present moment.”

Wyatt reports how her appreciation for the teenagers has grown as they have talked together about real and meaningful things whilst engaged in routine tasks such as weeding. “Getting to know them as individuals seems a privilege we lack time for during normal school life.”

The young people themselves have also spoken of the benefits of working outdoors and with others on a shared project. And community connections have flourished as neighbouring plot-holders have engaged enthusiastically with Wyatt and her team, sharing expertise (and surplus strawberry plants).

Why does it matter?

What is striking about these two articles is that Mountney and Wyatt are saying almost exactly the same thing. Now that normal expectations and layers of busyness have all been stripped away, both are emphasising the importance of the human element to real education. Above all else, and in whatever context it takes place, education is relational.

It’s useful for elective home educators to emerge from their own personal bubble now and again and survey the wider educational scene. It can help us to see what we have in common with those members of the teaching profession whose heart is for the children they teach, though they may frequently be hampered by the restrictions or demands of the system they work within.

This exercise can be of particular benefit at present because the whole educational landscape is experiencing such seismic changes in practice and thinking.

What can I do?

Always remember, especially in difficult circumstances, that fundamentally it is your relationship with your children and what you enjoy doing together which will equip them for their futures. Encourage them to enjoy learning as they explore the world in which they live, its history and how it works.

With normal routines on hold, the general population is also experiencing an opportunity to review many aspects of their lifestyle. Home education is currently not a fringe activity for the few – whatever form it is taking, family-based learning is happening everywhere.

Friends or neighbours may already be engaging more willingly with you in conversations about different approaches to education. So keep easy to read, human interest articles like these to hand, just in case.