Carnegie Education

We shouldn't go back to normal

The Covid19 pandemic has been the biggest worldwide crisis since the second world war. At the time of writing this post, the UK has had over 50.000 deaths and the rest of the world combined around 1.5 million. In order to fight the spread of the virus, governments have put drastic legislation in place.

Edward Hooper

In March 2020, during the first lockdown in the UK, shops, entertainment, pubs and restaurants closed. Schools and educational institutions were shut, and children and students sent home. We could only go out of our house once a day for exercise. Elderly people and the most vulnerable were asked to shield and stay inside their homes for weeks, in most cases, alone. We are currently under the second national lockdown and evidence indicates that it might not be the last. The impact of the restrictions on society has been dramatic. Children have lost months of socialisation, interaction and teaching, and the most affected were those who were already disadvantaged. Restrictions have brought social isolation to most, particularly people living on their own or those shielding, impacting the individual’s physical, mental and cognitive health. Hundreds of thousands of people have endured financial and job losses. In the July-September quarter a record high of 314.000 people were made redundant in the UK, almost a 200% increase. The front-line services such as the NHS and healthcare homes have suffered an increase in depression, substance misuse and post-traumatic stress disorder among their staff. We might never be able to understand the full extent of the consequences of the Covid19 pandemic, but it is clear that we are facing one of the most critical moments in the last century. This is why we hear people’s eagerness to go back to normal.


We shouldn’t go back to normal. For lots of people, normal means suffering racism on a daily basis. The National curriculum doesn’t reflect  the diversity of the current society nor it discusses the colonial underpinnings of Britain. Black children are more likely to be excluded and face discrimination in schools. We have public services that are structurally racist and are legitimised to discriminate. The media often attacks public figures based on the colour of their skin. 

We shouldn’t go back to normal. For lots of people, normal means suffering sexism on a daily basis. 37% of girls have experienced sexual harassment and 24% have been subject to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature. Although, girls outperform boys in educational attainment subject choices are still gendered and stereotypes are impacting girls’ future careers. Mental health issues among girls are rising and they don’t feel they are taken seriously. Women are being paid less for doing their jobs with an average of gender pay gap around 9%. 

We shouldn’t go back to normal. For lots of people, normal means suffering poverty on a daily basis. In the UK, 4.1 million children (30% of children) are living in poverty. Students from poorer backgrounds typically show lower educational attainment compered to children from better-off backgrounds and the gap increases with age. Increased levels of child poverty have a direct causal impact on worsening children’s social, emotional and cognitive outcomes. Hunger among children from poorer backgrounds is common during holidays.

We shouldn’t go back to normal. For lots of people, normal means suffering exclusion, discrimination or neglect on a daily basis. In the UK, LGBTQ+ students are continuing to experience discrimination, abuse and hostility with nearly half them experiencing bullying critically affecting their learning and future development. The inclusion of LGBTQ+ in schools is mainly focused on antibullying interventions instead of diversifying the curriculum and normalising lives. Children and families are experiencing threats and harassment in their schools because some people don’t want a normal representation of different kind of families in the curriculum. 

We shouldn’t go back to normal. For lots of people, normal means experiencing xenophobia on a daily basis. Thousands of children experience discrimination because of their accent, their nationality or the way they look which has a negative impact on their development and the health of individuals and their communities. Immigrants that are constantly portrayed as NHS and benefits abusers when data shows that they use fewer services than UK-born citizens but they contribute to the system as everyone else. Immigrants are portrayed as job stealers when they are critical part of the British economy.

We shouldn’t go back to normal. The teaching profession is constantly undermined and used as a political football. England’s educational system is in the midst of a teacher retention crisis. Teacher long term retention has been on a downward trend since 2014 which has tripled the rate of teacher vacancies. Unsustainable workload and a deteriorating work-life balance are the main reason for leaving the profession. The teacher-pupil ratio has only increased in the last decade in both primary and secondary schools. Teachers’ job-related stress almost doubles the percentage of other similar professions and teachers in 2020 experience 5 times more long-lasting mental health problems than in 1990. 

This is not a life that we should be eager to go back to. We already know that the ideas and actions of the past will lead us where we stand today.  
As Arundhati Roy said:

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

This global crisis is an opportunity to break free from the past and imagine a new and just world. If we want to leave a better world for our children, it is the time to listen to the voices of those who are oppressed and change the narrative of what we stand for and the society we want to be. Fortunately, there’s plenty of talent, ideas and good practices ready to be used. The Black Curriculum aims to change the National Curriculum so it represents diversity of Britain’s history. Stonewall trains thousands of teachers to ensure a more inclusive, equal and inspiring environment for LGBT people. The Story Makers Company promotes creative opportunities for those from socially underrepresented and economically disadvantage communities. The Alliance for Inclusive Education supports parents, teachers and schools to create a more inclusive educational experience for disabled students in mainstream schools. The Gender Respect Project aims to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence. These are just a few examples from hundreds of initiatives that currently exist in the UK. It is up to us now to ditch the injustices of the past and fight for a better future for all our children.