Leaving behind a positive legacy from lockdown for school and college leaders

By Pepe Di’Iasio, Headteacher, Wales High School and ASCL Vice President 

In a week that has seen the inauguration of Joe Biden with a slew of high-profile celebrities performing and announcing the dawn of a new era, it was the lesser-known Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet in US history to read at a presidential inauguration, who truly wowed the crowd, stole the show and, to my mind, captured the hearts and minds of the world at this critical but momentous moment in our history.

Gorman, who was named the first-ever national youth poet laureate in 2017, gave her incredibly powerful performance after Biden was sworn in, reciting the poem she had written, in part, on the day of the US Capitol riots on 6 January in which she called for Americans to “leave behind a country better than the one we were left”.

The concept of ‘leaving behind something better’ completely struck a chord with my recent thinking on school and college leaders’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the desire for headteachers across the country to want to take this opportunity to look for those positive aspects we will want to identify as our ‘legacy to lockdown’.

Perhaps the most uppermost in these positive legacies is the massively improved public perception of schools and colleges, and the acknowledgment of their contribution to wider society. It is vital we grasp this tide of support and ensure it is maintained and built upon. 

Agility under pressure
The way in which school and college leaders have adapted to the challenges of Covid has helped demonstrate to everyone that schools and colleges are far more than a series of metrics and certainly there is a greater understanding and appreciation of our civic leadership responsibilities across our wider communities. 

Headteachers have shown their agility, under immense pressure, and maintained their moral responsibilities to their students and families. Looking forward, we need to continue to celebrate and applaud the public service we offer our communities beyond our classrooms and reinforce all that we offer which has established our schools as much more than purely places for young people to learn.

In addition to the renewed valuing of schools and colleges from the general public, it has also been particularly pleasing to see improved partnership from parents. Students perform better where there are effective home/school partnerships and lockdown has definitely seen stronger relationships, better communication, and improved commitment from all those key partners around the child. 

Perhaps most significantly, it is our pupils who have also provided one of our most positive legacies. 
Many headteachers have been quick to praise how pupils have returned to school so purposefully. There can be no doubt it is the children who have valued the sense of order, the chance for much-missed social interactions and, perhaps most importantly, for them, the sense of fun and sheer enjoyment that are the most memorable parts of so many of our school days. It has been acknowledged that it is schools and colleges that provide young people with the opportunity to lose themselves in learning, to embrace differences, and accept diversity. Sadly, perhaps, more significantly for the disadvantaged and vulnerable in our schools, the sense of care and guidance that teachers provide will be missed most and must be a key driver for all leaders to prioritise. 

New initiatives and strategies
One of the key educational benefits that lockdown has provided is our focus on remote learning. I cannot recall any singular teaching and learning strategy having such an intense lens of improvement placed upon it. Often, new initiatives and strategies will have small cohorts of passionate teachers focussed on sharing, driving and improving their provision. With remote learning, the whole teaching workforce from across the entire world have come together to make it THE priority and the most effective it can be as quickly as possible. 

Almost inevitably, as a consequence of this massive focus, we have seen some huge leaps in what we are able to offer in a virtual, remote environment, and something of which we as a profession should be incredibly proud. The long-term implications for these developments are tremendous, be this for those young people who may not be able to medically access school on any given day, or for the excluded or even on those momentous snow days we all love (or loathe).

From a system-wide perspective, it has been a ‘game changer’ to see a greater emphasis on collective responsibility and less emphasis on top-down accountability. School and college leaders take accountability very seriously, despite the view that some may have, with this responsibility coming from external sources (primarily this being top-down from Ofsted, the DfE, perhaps from directors or even through performance tables). 

In the absence of Ofsted inspections and nationally published performance tables, headteachers have shown that they view their responsibilities as being much deeper and broader than the metrics that organisations utilise to hold leaders to account.

Working together
Perhaps one of the key legacies we have witnessed is seeing schools and colleges working together where previously, structures that may have presented potential barriers across a region have become less important. A united recognition that schools coming together to collaborate with the needs of children being the ultimate focus is surely a legacy that nobody would want to see lost.

Ultimately, it has been truly humbling to see the many ways in which school and college leaders have stepped forward to embrace what they see as their wider responsibility in a robust, collaborative, and collective way. This impressive conduct is a legacy that all leaders need to grasp and show political leaders that we as education leaders are capable and there is a way that the future can be different and better.

This is a momentous opportunity, a moment to grasp the positive legacies that lockdown has brought us and one in which we can look back on and believe that we left education in a better position than when we entered it. 
Pepe Di’Iasio is Headteacher of Wales High School and ASCL Vice President
Posted: 22/01/2021 15:10:01