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Teacher Toby Marshall reflects on a recent Education Forum discussion…

Last month I took great pleasure in chairing the Academy of Ideas Education Forum.

The online discussion followed a year of significant disruption to the normal routines of education. Contact with students had been maintained during lockdown, but in the absence of the rich communication afforded by in-person teaching, many educators, including myself, were more than little concerned as to what we might encounter as schools and colleges started to reopen.  

On the night we had three speakers with differing perspectives. Speaking first was Molly Kingsley, co-founder of UsForThem, a campaign group which has ensured that the needs of students have been at the forefront of discussions over the societal and education impact of lockdown. Molly was then followed by Sarah Standish, a school counsellor of many years experience. Sarah has been working at the sharp end of the student experience during this period. Finally, a more theoretically inclined viewpoint was provided by Dr. Ken McLaughlin, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The introductions and discussion explored many different aspects of the experience of lockdown, but two particularly important themes emerged. One was the danger of overstating the permanent psychological consequences of lockdown, and in doing so impeding a much needed return to normality. This point was balanced somewhat by a recognition of the need to keep an eye on students with preexisting support needs. It was felt that their experience of lockdown would have exacerbated existing problems.

Another second thread, initiated from the floor, suggested those who are critical of lockdown policy have too often framed the case for personal freedom in terms of mental health. In doing so, it was argued, they have been overly defensive.

I felt that there was a great deal to commend this point. Young people, and especially teenagers, do indeed need spaces in which feely associate and interact, places in which to get things wrong, and to get things right. The consequences of being denied these simple freedoms are unclear, and perhaps secondary. Freedom to associate and interact, away from the control of adults, brings them a great deal of pleasure, and no doubt many tears, but is the basis on which they lead a full life. The young have sacrificed a great deal and in my view far too much during lockdown.

A recording of the discussion can be found below. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed chairing it.