SSAT’s CEO Sue Williamson shares her positive outlook for 2022, and why we will continue to fight for deep social justice, for all children and young people.
While there were highlights in 2021, I did not enjoy last year. I was saddened by the tragedies going on in our world, and the reluctance of the world’s leaders to tackle them together. Children (and adults) starving to death; children drowning in the Channel; and girls losing their education in Afghanistan. I was sickened by the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (age 6); Star Hobson (16 months) and Ella Rose Clover (22 months) at the hands of people who they should have been able to trust. They experienced unimaginable cruelty and were not saved by the system. The earlier case of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie led to the Laming Report, which made 108 recommendations for child protection reform. This piece is too short to look at all the work that we need to do as a society as well as across the professions to protect children, but throughout the year we will be looking at the deep support that schools, agencies, communities and charities need to provide to safeguard children and young people.
A positive outlook for 2022
I want to start 2022 with a positive outlook. The positive highlights of 2021 for me mainly focused on my PA Lauren’s twins – Charlie and Rose. At the end of 2021, I shared a film clip of Rose imitating her mother as my PA. The twins were two in September, and it has been a joy to watch them grow and develop. They may be twins, but they are very different. Rose is confident and fearless, whereas Charlie is more cautious, and we call him “Mr Health & Safety”. It may be stating the obvious, but children are different. I see it all the time with my colleagues’ children. Our Director of Operations, Grace, has two children – Flo and Ed. Flo is quieter and gets on with tackling any task. Ed is the extrovert, who is always full of mischief.
It is a challenge to be a parent and to meet the needs of each child. I can also see how schools engage with parents in different ways. At SSAT we think parental engagement is essential, and we help schools with ways of working together, including those hard-to-reach parents. During the coming year, we will share case studies on parental engagement. The great advantage that Charlie, Rose, Flo, and Ed have is that they are much loved by family and friends – sadly not all children are loved or wanted.
Also, many children live in poverty. In 2019-20, 4.3 million children were living in households in poverty. They accounted for 31% of the UK’s 14 million children. And there are wide variations among ethnic groups. According to figures released by the Labour Party, there are 2.9 million white children living in poverty and 400,000 black children. Such figures are a disgrace for the fifth largest economy in the world.
The impact on learning is considerable. Bex Wilson, a primary school teacher in Leeds, and her father Mark set up a charity called Zarach to provide beds and bedding for poor families. She was inspired to do this when one of her pupils, a boy, was being moody and uncooperative. She asked him if he was tired, and he replied he was always tired as he didn’t have a bed.
There are so many charities that supply basic requirements for children and young people – we have all recognised the work of Marcus Rashford MBE and charities like Magic Breakfast. Hungry children cannot learn, so it is particularly heart-warming for us as teachers that so many people volunteer in this way.
Fighting for deep social justice continues
In 2022, SSAT will continue to fight for deep social justice for all children and young people, whatever their context or ability. Each week we want to focus on a particular aspect of this agenda and provide practical ideas for schools. This is a massive campaign that is like eating an elephant – we need to take small bites! One of the challenges for schools is to link with all the organisations, agencies and charities that can help their students. We know that teachers make lives, and we want to showcase your work – everyone needs to know what a wonderful contribution you make.
Looking at the examples described above, Charlie and Rose are sponges, who have started to benefit from nursery school, while Flo and Ed are further along in their schooling journeys. Both mums will tell you that there is nothing like the joy of a child coming out of school having had a wonderful day of learning.