Q uestions about the return to school are haunted by two ‘spectres’: the impact of the lockdown on the economy and howwe ensure children catch up. Both are rooted in a desire to return to normality and a fear that we, as a nation, and our children in particular, are going to be left behind in some kind of imaginary race. In reality, the clock stopped for everyone at the same time andwewill not be returning to normality. All our childrenhavemissed schooling andwill have had different experiences of learning during lockdown. It will be easy to look at those childrenwho have spent 32 | Focusing solely on academic learningwhen pupils return is damaging andwill lead to disengagement every day, including holidays, engaged in formal learning activities and completed every piece of work set by the school and believe that they will be in some way ahead. Many people outside of the education system assume those attending school sites are receiving ‘normal schooling’ and will be ahead in this imaginary race. Those of us rotated to support on-site know that this is not true. The lockdown has highlighted and exacerbated the inequalities between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. This has led to a moral panic about childrenwho have not been able to access schooling at home and a desire to force feed themall the lessons they havemissed as quickly as possible. Fundamental misconception The demand for ‘catch up’ is founded on false premises; children cannot be learning unless they are in school and that they only learn when they are being taught. This has led to a focus on those children who have not accessed teaching during the lockdown. There is a school of thought, spearheaded by ex-MP Andrew Adonis, that this teaching should be online, regardless of the access, suitability and safeguarding issues. But this highlights a more fundamental misconception: that receiving teaching is the same as learning. As any classroom teacher will tell you, there is a significant gap between what is taught and what is learnt. All children, even those with a replicated school day being livestreamed into their home are going to have missed key parts of their education. Education and schooling are about more than book learning and teachers standing up in front of the class delivering instruction. It is about the interactions and relationships that are at the heart of learning. Those who adhere to the ‘teaching is learning’ school of thought are deeply Why ‘catch up’ WON’TWORK concerned about the time children have missed in the classroom. They see a need to make up this lost time and missed learning as quickly as possible. They are focused on children who will not meet ‘age expectations’. We will need to accept that children have missed school and will not be at the same point as previous cohorts. We will need to respond to what children have learnt, not what we expected them to have learnt. Sense of exclusion The concern about ‘age expectations’ is likely to lead to a rush to formal assessments, so we know where the children are academically and can fill the gaps in their learning. However, this approach will further exacerbate the inequalities. Pushing children (and teachers) into ‘catch up’ – including holiday and Saturday classes – will force children into learning they are not emotionally ready to access. Rather than help them to ‘catch up’, it will exacerbate the inequalities. It will add to the sense of exclusion increased by calls for learning which they struggled to access without internet access, appropriate resources or a quiet space to learn. It will leave children feeling lost and unsupported as they struggle “The greatest necessity in the return to school will be to make children feel safe, valued andwanted” SARA ALSTON