At the chalkface: Build back better? Well, we can’t go back

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Could this be a 1945 moment? A Post-Covid Dream? We certainly need a sea-change. We can’t go back to the old normal. The plague has surely caused some enlightenment...

I gaze at bluebells... Lovely...
I gaze at blossoms... Lovely...
I gaze at a TV... Unlovely!

The prime minister is tweaking his vote-winning tresses, bumbling and buntering merrily along under a couple of flags. The subject seems to be schools. Too many children have been suffering in the pandemic. Fear not. Bunter is on it. Something or other will be done. It will be massive, big, amazing and easily world-beating.


I get a rush of breezy optimism. Or maybe I’m just high on those bluebells and blossoms – or the vaccine. I forget for a moment the irredeemable tragedy of the plague.

“We’re going to build back better!”

Could this be a 1945 moment? A Post-Covid Dream? We certainly need a sea-change. We can’t go back to the old normal. The plague has surely caused some enlightenment.

Much of the present curriculum has to go. We need a kinder culture, a real creativity and proper critical thinking. We need to address the racism, sexism, misogyny and Very Bad Manners which seem to be festering in some schools.

We must stop the exodus of unhappy teachers. My chums, albeit a bubble of effete, woke, metropolitan snowflakes, all agree.

I look at some cherry blossom. Teaching really could be the best job on earth like it was for me. I consult a newspaper. Our whip-smart Minister of Education is also banging on about the future. What dazzling insights does he have for us?

“The traditional teacher-led lessons with children seated facing the expert at the front of the class are powerful tools for enabling a structured learning environment where everyone flourishes.”

My optimism is drained. Every cliché, every cadence crushes. I am not an expert. Everyone doesn’t flourish. Lessons aren’t tools. “Learning” isn’t barking rote facts at empty vessels – rather the classroom is dynamic, the teacher a forcefield of energies.

We’ve moved on. Gavin hasn’t. He plods on.

“Now, more than ever...”

This had better be good.

“...we need schools to create an environment which makes it easy to behave and hard not to.”

The sentence drifts into mere incoherence. “Behave” is always a dodgy concept. He means “acquiesce”.

Don’t protest – it’s all the go. Maybe this is the dominant thinking – if we can dignify it as such.

Whatever, we are surely at a tipping point. Teachers must reclaim the classroom or we’ll lose it for good. When our NHS was trusted this last year, it did wonders. If teachers are trusted they can do the same. Future classrooms could be various, online, offline, child-centered, genuinely. inclusive, holistic. Trainee teacher applications have surged by 65 per cent during the plague. Give them time and money and let them loose to build the New Jerusalem.

Or am I still high on those blossoms?

It really is now or never. I gaze at those bluebells. Are they beginning to fade?

  • Ian Whitwham is a teacher of English, now retired, who spent many years working in the state school system of inner city London. He has written for SecEd since 2003. Read his most recent articles at


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