We still don’t know what schools are for.

paganel_snowIt seems bizarre that having had schools for so long – over 100 years in this country – we still don’t really know what they are for.

Some of us know what we’d like schools to be for. Many of us have preconceptions of what schools already do. But none of us really know what they are for. No shared understanding exists for the purpose of schools.

How do I know this? Simple: snow closures.

This week’s debate about the vagaries of snow closures has demonstrated beyond a doubt that we do not know what schools are for.

Amused reporters have appeared on TV pointing out the closed school and the open school within close proximity to each other. Headteachers have argued about the difficulty of making a decision that balances the safety of their children with the education of their children. Teachers and children have cheered at the prospect of snow closures. Except that is, teachers whose own children are off, while they themselves have to work. Meanwhile participants of radio phone-in have told us that it wasn’t like this in the 60s. And the CBI have warned us that snow closures could push the economy back into recession. Mind you, they already told us that last year.

So what does all this tell us about perceptions of the purpose of schools?

  • The CBI thinks that schools are for babysitting – their main purpose is to keep adults in work and keep the country productive.
  • The radio phone-in participant from the 60s thinks that schools are there to serve the community and should remain open whatever
  • The headteacher who closes their school because of snow thinks that schools exist to nurture and protect children.
  • The headteacher who opens their school despite the snow thinks that schools are there to develop a sense of risk and adventure.
  • Children think that school is for making them bored, as snow days are the very definition of fun.
  • Teachers think like the children, unless their pay is docked because their own school is actually open.

Of course, this is massively over-simplified. I’ve faced the difficult decision of opening or closing my school several times this week and I’ve had several conversations with people who have been disgruntled at coming down on one side or the other – parents who are losing money because we’ve closed. Parents are frustrated that they’ve had to make the effort to get to school because we’ve been open. Children who are bored of the snow and just want to have some lessons. Teachers who can’t believe we’re opening. Teachers who can’t believe we’re shutting. Fortunately neither the CBI, nor any TV reporters have knocked on my door this week.

Either way, it’s really interesting listening to what people say about school closures, because it opens up a little window into what they believe schools are really for.

What have you heard this week? And what do you think schools are for?

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