What is School For?

One of the many thought provoking outcomes of the lockdown has been the focus on what schools are for – revealing some obvious yet uncomfortable truths as well as some positive lessons for the future.

The obvious and uncomfortable truths first. You always work out what something does when it is not there and two huge areas in the fabric of society have been exposed as schools have closed.

First, schools provide childcare that underpins working life for parents. Aside from all the many other much more erudite reasons for having schools one of the roles they have is as a childcare facility. That is not glamorous but it may help people look on the education budget more favourably and wonder what that provision would cost if provided in any other way. Modern society does not work without schools looking after our children.

Second, schools are often the place of support and guidance for those young people where a home background may not provide that and also, actually , where it does but young people need another voice and a range of sources of advice as they shape their adult character. Schools are the front line of social care and for mental and physical health care. Let’s remember that when we discuss what budget education needs. This role has increased over the years as local health services and social services have changed in nature. We use schools as that first point of contact and acknowledging that is important.

And, of course, schools educate people. Here there is a positive truth I think has emerged. Teachers do a skilled job and now many parents have worked that out. This job is not about imparting knowledge, although that is part of the job. It is about structure, systems, expectations, vision and motivation. One positive message that will surely emerge, just for a while, is a better appreciation of what teachers do and, perhaps, a little more understanding when schools ring home to share an issue and ask for support in shaping a young life.

Schools will be back, and as is again always true in life, will soon be taken for granted again. Can we see how long we can remember just what an important part of the fabric of everyday life a school is?

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton