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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

The end of the beginning

I feel we are at the end of the beginning, rather than the beginning of the end. The tragedy of the pandemic continues - lives lost, so many affected, and through it all the humbling experience of individuals carrying out their work, volunteering and supporting people in ways that weren’t even imagined several months ago. In the West Midlands region there has been constant and welcome informal support taking place with all directors of children’s services (DCS), sharing ideas and ways of working, all of which has been invaluable. It has been really empowering to see local decision making and delivery act quickly, responsibly and effectively and I am proud to be able to play my part alongside fantastic colleagues in Herefordshire.

The current maelstrom of national and local activity in preparing for schools and settings to open to more pupils is one of many examples where listening, understanding, and sharing information improves confidence and allows for greater collective action. There’s a lot more road to travel before the beginning of June 2020 and yet it is only days away. The amount of thought and planning that must be put in by head teachers, principals, school and council staff is constant and considerable; as is the interaction with civil servants and health specialists. There is no easy answer because children and young people, parents and carers all have a variety of views and a lot of work is still to be done to ease their worries.

We have all adjusted to virtual ways of working and it’s been interesting to see some multi-national companies’ announcements on home working, including Twitter, setting working from home as a default position. Like other local authorities, Herefordshire is reflecting on the experiences of children and families, schools, and our own staff. Many have been inhabiting a virtual world for some years now but the past few weeks have been hugely different. It continues to be a steep learning curve for all involved but I know there will be a lot of good lessons that we can take forward.

Looking at the positives, operating during a pandemic has led to a lot of innovation, adjusting and putting into practice ways of interacting with children and young people at great speed, all for their benefit. We have seen great examples of children becoming far more engaged, speaking up for the first time and self-motivated to take part in learning in a different way. At the same time, it can be harder to reflect, to hear others or to engage across a group. All of this is predicated on conditions for learning - the right kit, (a mobile phone is not a laptop or tablet), the right speed of access (broadband and Wi-Fi), a workspace, and the time and space to take part.

For many families, these things depend on what they can afford or how much time parents and carers have to engage with their children. Teaching is a skill and an art and there is a reason it is a qualified vocation. A number of studies and think pieces have been emerging on the potential effects of online teaching, both on those who have limited or no access to IT equipment and those who have been able to engage fully.

It is to the government’s credit that they have committed to provide some of this equipment to those families that need it. All of us need to be thinking about the detrimental effects of lockdown on children and young people, the challenges they face now and how it will affect their lives in years to come.

I can’t help but wonder what opportunities will be seized at a national and local level to address the needs, desires and aspirations of our children and young people. It is for us to play our part, to shape, influence, champion and deliver.

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