Don’t turn schools into therapy centres

Remedial classes and lessons in overcoming trauma must not replace proper education after the lockdown.

Joanna Williams
Topics Politics UK

At last it seems as if all pupils might – just might – go back to school in September. Most children have had long months out of the classroom thanks to impossible government social-distancing regulations, intransigence from the teaching unions and the reluctance of some teachers and school leaders.

But before parents rush out to buy new school uniforms, it’s worth reading the small print. In last week’s big reveal, education secretary Gavin Williamson ordered children back to school but most definitely not back to normal.

Children will be put in class or year-group ‘bubbles’ and not allowed to mix with anyone in a different bubble. In practice, this means staggered start and finish times with a rota for break and lunch, no whole-school assemblies and no school trips. It also puts limitations on music lessons and school choirs. Perhaps most significantly, if one child in the bubble tests positive for Covid-19, then the entire bubble could be sent home to self-isolate for two weeks. If there are two or more confirmed cases, then the whole school could close for a fortnight. This on-again, off-again pattern could be repeated constantly for months on end.

Even if schools do manage to stay open for more than a few days at a time, it is unlikely to be for education as it is generally understood. As part of Williamson’s plan, schools might teach a narrowed-down curriculum, focusing only on English, maths and science.

Sadly, this remedial work may well be necessary given how many school days have been missed. But, as I argue in my Civitas report, Covid Kids: The Response of Schools to Coronavirus, a catch-up curriculum should be time-limited and intensive – just for a few weeks, perhaps with longer school days. The aim should be clear: to enable children to get back to learning a full range of subjects – history, geography, art, music and languages – as soon as possible. But plans for pupils to take fewer exams next summer suggest this is no stop-gap measure.

Surely critics are lining up to denounce this impractical and impoverished return to education, right? Not quite. After doing all in their power to keep children out of the classroom for months on end, education experts do indeed have something to say about Williamson’s plans. But far from being angry that pupils are being offered too little, too late, they want to see this limited commitment to teaching cut further. Labour’s newly appointed shadow education secretary, Kate Green, has argued that, come September, schools should adopt ‘a trauma-informed approach’, which means swapping teaching for circle time and extra PSHE classes.

Some headteachers are on board with this therapeutic focus. Back in April, Karl Rogerson, the headteacher of a primary school in Birmingham, drew up a new timetable for when his pupils would return to class. Instead of extra lessons in English and maths, he planned to offer grief and anxiety classes as well as advice on how to be sociable. He argued that helping anxious children was as important as catching up on missed work because ‘a generation may have been traumatised’ by being locked in their homes. ‘Children may need to be taught anew how to follow school routines, how to play again, how to hug each other once it is safe, and to use toys to cuddle if they feel worried.’ Desmond Deehan, the executive head of two schools in south-east London, likewise said that a ‘recovery curriculum’ should focus first on mental health.

Many children have undoubtedly struggled through the lockdown. However, as those lucky enough to be back at school have found, what helps best with getting back to normal is doing precisely that: getting back to normal. That means a return to teaching subjects, not endless hours spent dwelling on coronavirus. It means leaving children alone to resume friendships, not micromanaging each interaction they might have. As one teacher explained to The Times: ‘We had a whole personal social and health education recovery programme planned – and abandoned after a couple of weeks. The best medicine is to try our best to make things as normal as possible.’

Lockdown has shone a light on educational inequality. It soon became apparent that children at private schools and some high-performing state schools were getting a full timetable of interactive online lessons whereas the rest had to make do with the odd emailed-home instruction. The real danger now is that, come September, this inequality is exacerbated further when some pupils return to a full academic curriculum and others get remedial classes combined with therapy-inspired lessons in overcoming trauma.

No child demanded lockdown. No child petitioned for playgrounds to be shut, swimming pools to be closed and out-of-school activities to be stopped. Adults imposed isolation and social distancing on children, leaving them without friends or education. We now owe it to children to allow them to get their lives fully back to normal as quickly as possible. The education secretary urgently needs to pop his beloved bubbles, drop all requirements for children to practice social distancing, and insist not just that schools reopen but also that they take education seriously.

Joanna Williams is director of the Freedom, Democracy and Victimhood Project at Civitas. Covid Kids: The response of schools to coronavirus is free to download.

Let’s cancel cancel culture

Free speech is under attack from all sides – from illiberal laws, from a stifling climate of conformity, and from a powerful, prevailing fear of being outed as a heretic online, in the workplace, or even among friends, for uttering a dissenting thought. This is why we at spiked are stepping up our fight for speech, expanding our output and remaking the case for this most foundational liberty. But to do that we need your help. spiked – unlike so many things these days – is free. We rely on our loyal readers to fund our journalism. So if you want to support us, please do consider becoming a regular donor. Even £5 per month can be a huge help. You can find out more and sign up here. Thank you! And keep speaking freely.

Donate now

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Cathy Archer

11th July 2020 at 4:26 am

If a child manages to not be a victim of the abortion holocaust they should just be thankful they weren’t murdered by their mothers like 1 in 5 British youngsters are, and not be concerned about a temporary bump in the road of their government reeducation camp “schooling”. There will be plenty of time to go to the place they hilariously call a “school” to be programmed in the finer points of LGBT and diversity and having the compliant non-personality to work in service McJobs.

John Reic

8th July 2020 at 6:44 pm

And i’d dressed up as a witch not a wizard good job my mum didn’t think I was a girl and cut my cock off

Philip St. John Lewis Davies

8th July 2020 at 1:44 pm

Of course schools in Britain are becoming nothing but therapy centres! Health is the new culture, and infantilised valetudinarianism has replaced intelligent and robustly independent maturity as a national goal. Had you not noticed? It’s been happening for a long time now. The West – except just possibly the United States (and that’ll be a close-run thing) – is history. Except that even our history is being abolished. And with memory gone, we’ll also be culturally Alzheimeric. So there goes an entire civilisation: Dotty and dying, and prostrate in the s**t from the defective sphincter of our collective incontinence, that surrenders everything to the void. All down the pan.God! What an undignified exit from the stage of history!

Barbara Baker

7th July 2020 at 1:14 pm

I am guessing they will take the opportunity to include Unconcious Bias training while they are all in “therapy”

fret slider

7th July 2020 at 12:17 pm

Schools have been social engineering factories for years.

Parents don’t get much of a say in anything because the state and its agents know what is best.

Schools – with their indoctrinated and motivated social justice staff, formerly known as teachers, know kids should be off school on Fridays protesting against capitalism behind the fig-leaf of a fake climate crisis.

Everybody knows the punishment for heresy – excommunication.

Gareth Edward KING

7th July 2020 at 10:54 am

If children are recognised as having a minor role in the transmission of this pesky virus (as if it were THE one and only virus that has ever stalked the planet) why is the state continuing with this social distancing dystopian nonsense? It beggars belief. Now that we’re leaving the EU it might be a good idea to see how that other euro-sceptic nation-Sweden-actually did very well over the past few months and really must be back now to NORMAL (with no qualifiers). Why isn’t Anders Tegnel being invited over to the UK for a long, hard chat? or is it only a question of pride? The anti-social measures mentioned here for schools are also being taken on board by Stalinist Spain. ‘Educational bubbles’! what a load of twaddle! I am absolutely besides myself with anger and frustration with the number of parents in Madrid who are insisting that their prole be togged out in a deathly face flannel! And in this merciless heat!

Mark Houghton

7th July 2020 at 10:10 am

Schools have been messing around with the mental health of boys for years.

Dominic Straiton

7th July 2020 at 8:58 am

I think children have been much better off not going to school. Sending your nearest and dearest to be indoctrinated into misery and a failed life is the worst thing any parent can do.

Melissa Jackson

7th July 2020 at 8:07 am

Schools have been threatening to turn into therapy centres for years, sadly. This is just another excuse to coddle children, pushing them further and further into infanthood for longer and longer.


7th July 2020 at 6:56 am

And we wonder why statues are pulled down by kidults who are ‘traumatised’ by bronze statues. As highlighted, private schooling is showing its value (it’s very expensive, but increasingly worth it). Cotton wool is not needed for 98% of kids, so we cannot apply trauma approaches universally.
If a five year old is repeatedly told it is a victim to be pampered, it sticks for life.

A start will be to allow the Great University Ponzi Scheme to buckle a little and sift out the worst non-STEM performers.
It is scary to me as an employer of grads that they are very motivated about environmental concerns and BLM when I actually just want them to do their jobs. I have had to caution one to keep her views outside work. It worked, but it was necessary.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.

Deplorables — a spiked film