OPINION: Schools in Harrogate district can start to look forward after unimaginable disruption - Dennis Richards

March 13, 2020. Not a date, where anything particularly worthy of note happened.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 3:46 pm

Except for me, that is. It was the date I last went into a school. I only know that because I found a lunch receipt for that date in my suit pocket, a work suit, which I clearly hadn’t worn for over a year. There are happily signs all around us that an old-style capacity to laugh at ourselves may be about to return. In the same newspaper last week was a delightful cartoon, showing grandparents discussing the end of lockdown. “The grandchildren are fully booked until 2022,” says Grandad, “but we are on the waiting list for a cancellation”. On the very same page was a report from the South-West. “What hope is there of resolving international conflict when the cream tea war, raging on either side of the Tamar, shows no sign of reconciliation?” Cornwall puts the jam on first, Devon the cream. And even worse, a Sainsbury’s advert mixed them up.

Going into school last week to conduct some French Oral tests, I was very struck by the calm purposeful atmosphere. After 15 months of unimaginable disruption, there was a palpable sense of quiet anticipation that schools can at last begin to look forward rather than back. There is hurt as well, and debate as to which groups have missed out most. The consensus tends to focus on the older age groups, two in particular.

Last year’s school leavers lost most of their last year at school and their university experience thus far, has been stunted, stop and start, and stop again. This year’s cohort, maybe, just maybe, can look forward to a ‘normal’ start to university or apprenticeship in September.

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Teaching and Learning will be to the fore. Science will flourish, given the vaccine triumph. Even in French A Level, students were choosing Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie for their research projects. But the danger is obvious. STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) are being pushed for economic reasons, to the extent that students may conclude that they are the only subjects that matter. The two big worries are History and Modern Languages. Two modern universities have announced plans to close their History Departments. Marked changes in society will continue make their mark.

Menna Rawlings has just become the first woman to be appointed British ambassador to France. Her appointment completes the set. In the leading G7 group of nations, all our Ambassadors are women. A quite extraordinary transformation. There is no way back and schools will rejoice in this further sign of equality of opportunity.

Sport will play a major role in our national educational recovery. The bitter fallout from the ill-conceived European Super League has left us in no doubt as to its significance in our national life. Within 48 hours it had fallen apart. Sports commentator, Mark Pougatch used a cricket analogy. “The last time England’s top six collapsed this quickly, they were facing Shane Warne”.

And who knows? Maybe even some school trips. Imagine the joy of being able to take students to Geneva again as we did for so many years. A magnificent lake, citadel of the European Reformation, and a beautiful Old Town.

On my last visit, I felt that my annual lecture in front of St Peter’s Cathedral had gone particularly well. They had seen Calvin’s chair and his pulpit. The magnificent view from the tower. “Any further information?” I asked. Joe is quick to reply. “No, sir; I think you’ve more or less covered it. But where’s McDonald’s?” Strange, the things we’ve missed.