School workshops have been hives of activity over the past week. While most classrooms have been lying empty as pupils stay at home, technology has been whirring away in the background.
Laser cutters and 3D printers are now doing overtime. Who would have thought they could be repurposed to make personal protective equipment for NHS workers and others in need?
The mini-production lines have been springing up at schools across North Staffordshire and South Cheshire. And it’s mostly down to an ingenious network of design and technology teachers, who have been swapping patterns and sharing ideas.
I interviewed two of them last week: Lee McCue, who works at Madeley School, and Graham South, from Clayton Hall Academy. Between them, they’ve been churning out more than 200 face shields in their spare time.
Other schools and colleges are also getting involved in the wartime-style community effort, either by loaning their equipment or by getting stuck into making visors themselves.
Hats off to everybody involved. Your help really does matter to those workers on the front-line of fighting coronavirus.
But should teachers be having to do this anyway? The Government’s failure to provide all NHS and care workers with enough PPE has been a disgrace. It’s akin to sending soldiers into battle without proper defence equipment.
There are also some wider lessons to learn from this experience. Subjects that have been side-lined on the curriculum in recent years are now proving their value.
D&T doesn’t count towards the Government’s English Baccalaureate. Neither do PE, art and music.
But just look at what pupils have been up to during the lockdown. They’ve been creating stunning artistic displays, learning musical instruments via online lessons, and working out in the garden to exercise clips.
For therapy as much as education, we’ve all realised the importance of creativity in our lives.
My bet is when schools return to normal – whatever the new normal will be – we will start to view the curriculum in a different way.
Wouldn’t it be great if ministers took the hint and scrapped the EBacc altogether. Let GCSE pupils decide which subjects they want to learn outside of the core offer of English, maths and science.
It’s a bit like the realisation that ‘key workers’ are often those previously overlooked in our society. Care workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff and cleaners are all low-paid, but they are indispensable at times of national emergency.
Our social and economic fabric is built on these kinds of jobs. When we get out of this mess, we really need to look at how to reward them with better pay and conditions and stop classifying them as ‘unskilled’.
Schools aren’t the only education institutions who have stepped up to the plate and helped in this mammoth effort.
Professor Peter Ogrodnik, a biomedical engineer at Keele, has set up an international volunteer network of engineers and designers. The recruits are now looking at ways to solve practical problems linked to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Keele’s pharmacy experts are busy making hand sanitiser products.
And students have also joined the call to help. Hundreds of student nurses from both local universities have signed up to work for the NHS as part of an emergency scheme.
While 75 of Staffordshire University’s degree apprentices have also been helping to ramp up testing for Covid-19. They are training to become biomedical scientists and are now working in hospital pathology labs and as part of scientific teams responding to the crisis.
Among the hospitals to benefit from the apprentices’ efforts are Royal Stoke and St Thomas’ in London – the hospital where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been receiving treatment.
Education isn’t just about gaining qualifications. It really is about learning skills for life.