My Virtual School – picnics in the park. 17.5.2020

17 May 2020. As lock-down starts to be unlocked we have more freedoms to move around. Exercise is now unlimited and the rules on activities outside the home have been relaxed. Today the Abbey Meadows were full of people sitting. Just sitting on the grass. Most in small family groups – parents with young children and a dog. A few couples. A few clearly two friends who have met up for the first time in weeks. Sitting at least 2m apart. Happy just to sit. All quiet. Very little conversation. Just sitting in the sunshine, a blessed relief after the relentless need to keep moving with exercise. Fewer cyclists today. But a lot of the groups had arrived by bicycle. They were propped against trees or the park benches.

Every so often a new family arrived on the scene. Invariably father walking ahead, talking incessantly on his phone. Mother herding children and dog behind him. The family would choose a spot, maintaining an appropriate distance away from other groups and away from the path, and settle down among the knee-high buttercups. A study in Central Place Theory and Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Many friends in teaching are becoming depressed and upset by the assault on them by the media. The role of the Unions in negotiating a safe physical return to school by pupils is being described as ‘squabbling.’ Teachers are branded cowards. Others are raising it to the level of class warfare – Eton won’t go back before September but the youngest primary children can be tossed to the virus like guinea-pigs on 1 June. And so on.

At school, the Geology Dept are teaching about fossil molluscs by means of Guylian chocolates; the Year 9s are all building pin-hole cameras from whatever is lying around at home, whilst the Year 10s have accessed a telescope in Liverpool via the internet and are photographing distant galaxies from their living room sofas. The Fifths (Year 11) whose GCSEs were due to start within a few weeks have an entirely new programme of learning and want to know ‘why isn’t all education like this?’

The rush to get every pupil back into the old way of school may throw away our one opportunity to rethink education.

© Clare Sargent