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This is the homepage of Greg Ashman, a teacher, blogger and PhD candidate living and working in Australia. Everything that I write reflects my own personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or any other organisation.

I have a book out for new teachers (which some experienced teachers have also enjoyed):

The Truth about Teaching: An evidence informed guide for new teachers

Watch my researchED talks here and here

I have written for The Australian about inquiry learning (paywalled):

Inquiry-learning fashion has us running in wheel

This is my take on the “Gonski 2.0” review of Australian education for Quillette:

The Tragedy of Australian Education

Here is a piece I wrote for The Age, a Melbourne newspaper:

Fads aside, the traditional VCE subjects remain the most valuable

Read a couple of articles I have written for The Spectator here:

A teacher tweets

School makes you smarter

Read my articles for the Conversation here:

Ignore the fads

Why students make silly mistakes

My most popular blog post is about Cognitive Load Theory:

Four ways cognitive load theory has changed my teaching

To commission an article, click here

Abandoning ATAR

I switched on the TV yesterday to see someone described as an ex-principal suggesting we use the coronavirus situation as an opportunity to ditch the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) system. So I tweeted my frustration.

For those outside Australia, the ATAR is a score given to Year 12 students who wish to go to university based upon their performance in Year 12 exams. In theory, it is a rank relative to the cohort who all started secondary school together so if, for instance, you get an ATAR of 95.00, that places you in the top 5%. There is necessarily an element of fudge to this because many students in the cohort do not sit the exams as they do not intend to go to university.

I won’t bore you with the details of how it works, apart from to say that it does the job of taking the different states’ approaches to Year 12 exams and marrying them into an Australia-wide admissions system. And it’s important to note the ATAR is not the only consideration for university entrance. Some courses require students to sit certain prerequisite subjects at Year 12 and my own view is that prerequisites should be a greater factor than they are. Some courses offer non-ATAR routes or discounted entry requirements for particular students.

When people like the ex-principal on the ABC say they want to get rid of the ATAR, what exactly do they mean? Do they want to remove just the ranking calculation or the exam system that underpins it?

Unfortunately, calling for the abolition of the ATAR is a lot like calling for the abolition of NAPLAN, the suite of standardised literacy and numeracy assessments taken by Australian students in May of Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 (although not this year). It’s the sort of call that the media treat largely uncritically. If you go on something like ABC News or The Project and say we should abolish the ATAR because it causes stress, you will be received with much head-nodding and chin-stroking but few probing questions about the detail of your plan for an alternative university admissions system. It’s a free hit. And it is equally guaranteed to be popular on the croissant circuit.

Through a string of Twitter connections, the ex-principal from ABC News somehow came across my tweet. I learnt that he is Adam Voigt and his Twitter biography states he is a former principal and an education expert for the radio stations 2GB and 3AW, for the TV show, The Project, and for the Herald-Sun newspaper.

I tried to engage him in the detail of the argument for or against the ATAR but he wasn’t keen.

Despite not advancing the discussion very far, the reference to Peter Hutton’s (@EdRev) petition is useful because Hutton’s petition adds some clarity to what a future without the ATAR is meant to look like:

“I propose senior students still demonstrate their competence in each subject, assessed by their teacher and authenticated by another qualified subject teacher. Universities have time to develop their own criteria for entrance, including a “learning and life portfolio” along with any prerequisite subjects as happens in the USA.”

This is an extremely bad idea. Teacher assessment is being forced on schools in England due to the timing of northern hemisphere exams but it is hardly an ideal solution. Teacher assessment is prone to unconscious bias in a way that examinations are not and that tends to work against the already disadvantaged. In fact, this part of Hutton’s plan is similar to arrangements recently abandoned in Queensland.

And what will the criteria for entry that universities develop look like? The American system is hardly one we should wish to emulate. Although privileged kids have access to tutors and other supports, when they get into the exam hall they still have to do it on their own. So although not a completely level playing field, it’s about as level as you can make it. Think about how advantage and privilege would express itself through a learning portfolio where you cannot even be certain that the student has completed all the work themselves. Think about the chemistry project of the student who’s uncle is a chemistry professor versus the project of the student who is the first generation of their family to aspire to university.

And imagine if we adopt the American model of evaluating students on their contribution to the community as part of this ‘learning and life portfolio.’ Sounds like a good idea? Well imagine the student from a single parent family who has to travel two hours each day on public transport and works at the weekend to try to make ends meet and compare that student’s capacity to contribute to the community with a wealthy student who has their own car and connections at the local church.

It is easy to call for the abandonment of examinations and the processes surrounding them. It is romantic, liberatory. You will receive sympathetic, largely uncritical reception. After all, what kind of monster wants to put kids through the stress of exams?

But life has lots of stresses, from applying for a job to asking someone out. Stresses are not necessarily a bad thing. And if you are going to replace exams with something, it’s probably not a good idea to replace them with something less fair and less equitable. It’s worth remembering that the Chinese invented exams as a way of wresting control of the civil service away from aristocratic patronage, not as a means of torturing young people.

Exams exist for a reason. If you want to abandon the ATAR, your alternative needs to bear proper scrutiny.

Is one-nation conservatism the lesson of COVID-19?

I grew up in a small town in Dudley in England’s West Midlands. My sister and I were the first generation to go to university. My parents probably would have done so today. Before retiring, my mother was a bookkeeper and my father designed machines for testing the strength of various components and materials. During breaks from university, I would work as a labourer in the factories of the Midlands – factories that could make anything, from anything. I would ride my bike because the privatised bus service was rubbish.

People from the Midlands have a strong accent. Although I’m not from Birmingham, those outside the Midlands do not recognise this distinction and we are all ‘thick brummies’ to them. Well, that’s the stereotype, despite our industrial heritage. I remember being called a ‘thick brummie’ at university. That did not end well. The brummie stereotype is just one reflection of the prolonged disdain with which London’s chattering classes and makers of the media view the industrial towns and metal-bashers of the Midlands and the North.

A few years ago, I led a school trip to London. We visited a TV production company and an advertising agency. The advertising agency struck me as the most fun place I could imagine working and the TV company had long lines of Tabithas and Julians queuing outside every time they were recruiting. As a young person, I was barely conscious that such jobs existed. Even if I had been aware, I could never have afforded to move to London, rent an exorbitant apartment and exist on the tiny starting salaries, or worse, unpaid internships, that are a necessary first step in such careers.

And so the Tabithas and Julians reproduce themselves, cruising around London on its gold-plated public transport system, disdaining England’s industrial towns and professing bafflement at Brexit. Such is England. Such is a largely political problem.

Is this a problem that needs solving? Perhaps. And there are two ways we might go about it, both with implications for schools.

Michael Merrick recently wrote a blog post expressing the first option. Struck by the coronavirus situation and our acute dependence on delivery drivers and supermarket workers, he wonders whether teachers have focused too much on academic objectives and university. Perhaps we should recognise that not everyone could or should go to university and that the alternatives are equally valid. Merrick recalls, with shame, warning a student that he may end up stacking shelves.

Perhaps we need a return to the kind of one-nation conservatism in which we pat the little guy on the head and congratulate him for the sterling work he is doing in keeping the country running.

I’m not so sure.

The alternative is not, as Merrick sees it, meritocracy. Rule by those who have ‘merit’ could only ever be imposed in an authoritarian state because someone would have to define merit and decide who has it.

And before we can be clear about an alternative, we need to address an assumption that has so far gone unchallenged: that education is all about the job you will end up doing. I don’t think that’s true. Education is much more than that. Education is about cultural enrichment. It is about knowing the world you inhabit. It’s about political engagement and performing your civic role. Just because someone becomes a supermarket worker, it shouldn’t necessarily follow that they never attend a Shakespeare play or go to a political hustings and articulately challenge the candidates on the state of public transport.

No, a better alternative to one-nation conservatism is to stop viewing education as a means of ferrying young people to particular destinations but to view it as a form of empowerment. The ideal is to give young people choice. Yes, choice is not an unalloyed good. It can be a burden. I make no apologies for that. It is often easier and more comfortable to have difficult choices made for you. But human flourishing depends on human agency. If we have control over our lives, we have nobody else left to blame.

And yes, we are far from such an ideal. So, if it is an ideal worth pursuing, the question we need to ask is what would take us one step closer? Teaching every child to read would be an excellent start. Then, once they possess this tool for learning, we can teach them a robust, academic curriculum consisting of the most powerful and enduring ideas – the ideas that have proved to be of most value in the past. We give young people no choice about that because we cannot know what their future selves may want and need. There is no sorting hat that can proclaim, “This child is destined to cut hair and will never need or want British history.” Then, once young people become young adults and start making choices for themselves, we empower them to do so by giving them opportunities and knowledge of those opportunities. Some may choose to go to university. Some may choose apprenticeships or other forms of vocational education. Some may choose work. Some may choose routes we haven’t thought of yet. And then, later in life, some may choose to learn and train again.

The better alternative to the English obsession with rank is not a one-nation conservative story in which the lower ranks are afforded the honour they deserve, although that is undoubtedly better than dismissing them as stupid racists who vote for the wrong things. The better alternative is to hand people their own destiny. Education has its part to play in that, but so does politics.

The big stinking error of the social sciences


The big stinking error of modern social sciences is the idea that an argument can be evaluated on the basis of who is making it. At the crudest level, this is expressed through culturally permissible forms of prejudice such as accusing a man of ‘mansplaining’ or a suggesting someone’s view comes from a position of ‘white privilege’.

Such observations could well be true, but they do not relate to the heart of the argument. If, for instance, a view does originate from a position of white privilege then that should result in the person expressing that view making errors or overgeneralisations that can presumably be countered by those with a better informed perspective. If the person’s privilege does not cause them to make such errors then it is largely irrelevant.

We know, for instance, of the existence of right-leaning thinktanks that are funded by wealthy individuals or corporations. When a representative of such a thinktank makes the argument for lower business rates or a reduction in capital gains tax, we may think, “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” However, this fundamentally does not tell us whether such tax policies would be beneficial to society by whatever standard you wish to define ‘beneficial’. Similarly, when the head of a union argues for greater protection for workers and against union-busting legislation, we may also note an element of self interest. And yet, again, it tells us nothing about the value of such policies.

Unfortunately, rather than developing corrective mechanisms for such fallacious ad hominem arguments, the social sciences seem intent on baking them in to elaborate sounding theory.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned Paul Thomas’s extraordinary critique of Daniel Willingham. Part of Thomas’s argument was that Willingham, who comments on education from a background in psychology, was guilty of ‘epistemic trespassing’. Thomas has continued this discussion with Willingham and others on Twitter and, as part of this, has quoted from a paper by Nathan Ballantyne with a view to demonstrating a robust research literature supporting the concept.

Ballantyne’s argument is pretty easy to grasp. Essentially, those with expertise in Field A usually lack the knowledge to comment expertly on Field B. However, their lack of knowledge of Field B leads them to assume they understand it better than they do – a classic Dunning-Kruger effect. And so their pronouncements about Field B are often made with overconfidence. Various figures are mentioned such as Linus Pauling, a chemist, and his views on disease and Richard Dawkins, a biologist, and his views on religion.

As a side-note, I wrote a critique of Dawkins while a university student back in the mid-90s as part of a unit on the philosophy of science. At that time, he was perhaps less well known for his strident atheism than he is now, although that strand had been present since his first popular science book, The Selfish Gene. My criticism of Dawkins was that he seemed to have a more mechanistic and deterministic view of nature than could be supported by fundamental physics.

Whether my criticism was right or wrong, it was far more valid than any based on suggesting that he, as a biologist, should not be commenting on ideas outside of his field.

It is, of course, true that critics from outside a field are highly likely to lack sufficient knowledge and may suffer from overconfidence. This is almost a definition of being inexpert. However, if Dawkins’ lack of knowledge of religion or philosophy causes him to make errors then we can point these out and if it does not, then it does not matter.

After all, I think we can agree that outsiders sometimes have a positive contribution to make. Even Ballantyne suspects, “we must trespass to answer most important questions”. So trespassing versus not trespassing is not the determiner and can never be so, rendering much of this intellectual display rather moot and rendering the concept of trespassing unfalsifiable – it is bad apart from when it is good.

Overconfident interlopers should be the easiest opponents to defeat for a self-confident field with a sound mechanism for weighing truth against falsehood. Swaggering fools should rapidly be sent packing by any robust area of scholarship once their arguments are rendered facile. There should be no need to point and say, “You have no authority here – get off my land!”.

Yet here we are. Until the social sciences can think its way back out of complicated status games, we are unlikely to see much of value emerge from it.

The positive case for Balanced Literacy

The concept of ‘Balanced Literacy’ is interesting. If you look for a definition then you may be disappointed. The Wikipedia entry on Balanced Literacy ‘has multiple issues’ but offers this:

“A balanced literacy program uses research-based elements of comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonemic awareness and phonics and includes instruction in a combination of the whole group, small group and 1:1 instruction in reading, writing, speaking and listening with the strongest research-based elements of each.”

This sounds good. It aligns, for instance, with the ‘Big Five’ areas of focus set out in the U.S. National Reading Panel report (2000) into the effective teaching of reading. So why do we tend to see proponents of Balanced Literacy on one side of the argument and proponents of systematic phonics teaching, who often draw on the National Reading Panel report, on the other?

This is not a new problem. The concept of Balanced Literacy was put forward by Michael Pressley in 1998 in an attempt to resolve the ‘reading wars’ between those who focus on the central role of phonics and those who stress the importance of a ‘holistic’ whole language approach where children are immersed in a literature-rich environment. Already, by 2002, Pressley and his colleagues were noting how the term, Balanced Literacy, had been distorted by those with an agenda:

“…in the past several years, many other books have used the phrase “balanced instruction” or some variation of this phrase. Some of these recent books suggest heavy doses of skills, with many pages devoted to conceptualizing, describing, and defending skills instruction while mentioning holistic opportunities only in passing. Others devote many pages to conceptualizing, describing, and defending holistic teaching, and recommend skills instruction as something that can be done in the context of holistic reading and writing and only when the need arises.”

Over the years, it seems like the latter distortion has gained the most ground. Much as the term ‘whole language’ appears to encapsulate all elements of reading but became associated with an approach largely lacking in phonics instruction, Balanced Literacy has become its successor.

For instance, the body of the Wikipedia article describes the ‘Reading Workshop’ model of instruction. There is little in this to suggest the systematic teaching of letter-sound relationships, as recommended by the National Reading Panel. The focus is more on read-alouds with ‘word study’ as a separate afterthought.

Anecdotally, schools that describe their practice as ‘Balanced Literacy’ tend to send out long lists of ‘sight words’ for students to memorise by sight rather than decoding them using phonics. There are also plenty examples of ‘three-cuing’ or ‘searchlights‘ strategies that ask children to guess unknown words from context rather than sounding them out. This is not a good approach because it effectively teaches children to do what bad readers do, crowding out space for the phonics decoding strategy recommended by the National Reading Panel.

I cannot be definitive, however, about what Balanced Literacy looks like in every single classroom. And I wonder whether there is method in this. Is it useful to keep the definition vague? Perhaps. That way, if Balanced Literacy instruction fails young readers, we may always insist this is because it hasn’t been done properly without the difficulty of having ‘properly’ clearly defined. Here’s Paul Thomas, an education professor from the U.S. using exactly this fallacious reasoning:

Notice the reference to the Trumpian construct of the mainstream media (MSM). This is because a journalist, Emily Hanford, has sparked a debate about reading instruction in the U.S. and the professors do not like it.

Hanford has written a number of articles about the inadequacies of reading instruction in American classrooms, be it ‘balanced’ or otherwise (e.g. here). Her criticisms will be familiar across the English-speaking world – the lack of a systematic approach to phonics instruction and the inclusion of flawed strategies such as guessing words from context. Commendably, and perhaps unexpectedly, this has struck a nerve with the American public and led to a larger debate.

The latest volley has been a ‘policy statement‘ by the official-sounding National Education Policy Center, which appears to be run by academics at the University of Colorado. They have taken issue with supporters of systematic phonics using the term ‘science of reading’ and claim:

“…there is no settled science of reading… the research base and evidence base on reading and teaching reading is diverse and always in a state of change.”

Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor who has written extensively about the application of psychology to education, took issue with this statement, noting, among other points, that there is no ‘settled’ science of anything. Science is always contingent. That’s how science works. That doesn’t stop the contingent science of today being something we should pay attention to when it is pertinent to questions such as the most effective ways of teaching reading.

Paul Thomas then fired back in a most extraordinary post: Willingham is a psychologist not an education professor and it’s a form of bullying for psychologists to comment outside of their field. How disrespectful! Don’t you know there’s a long history of education scholarship? Anyway, psychology is facing its own replication crisis so what do psychologists know? And what about the fact that Willingham missed all the nuance and complexity in the National Education Policy Center statement? Oh, and trespassing in other fields is often a veneer for ‘academic sexism’.

I can only conclude that Thomas could not think of a way of obliquely accusing Willingham of racism or transphobia. Perhaps next time…

Where does this leave the positive case for Balanced Literacy? Well, I’m not entirely sure what Balanced Literacy is and I’m not entirely sure that there is one.

Are teacher assessments as good as exams?


Recently, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the UK Department for Education, which is responsible for education In England, decided to cancel all of its scheduled GCSE, AS and A Level exams and replace them with a form of teacher assessment. Australian students typically sit their exams at the end of the calendar year and so no such decisions about these have yet been made. However, the standardised assessment programme for literacy and numeracy that Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 students complete every May has been cancelled this year.

Most educators seem to have responded to this news in practical terms. What are the alternatives? How do we make these alternatives work? How do we ensure they are fair? There is a grim determination to make the best of a bad hand. However, some have taken a different approach. Sensing opportunity in a crisis, they are calling for the abandonment of exams altogether in the future, post-coronavirus world.

An example of this call is an article in The Conversation. Kaili Rimfield, Margherita Malanchini and Robert Plomin argue that teacher assessments are just as ‘reliable and stable’ as exam scores. For example, they cite their own research that shows teacher assessment at the age of 11 is almost as accurate as exams at age 11 for predicting scores on GCSE exams at age 16.

There’s something odd about this.

Firstly, they make the classic mistake that is most often made in the field of genetics. If a gene raises an individual’s risk of a particular disease by a few percent then that is pretty useless at an individual level. What do you do with that information? However, it does lead to quite powerful predictions at the population level. Exams are not about making predictions at a population level, they are about individual performance.

To put it another way, when I worked in London, we used to assign students a predicted score at GCSE based upon cognitive ability tests taken at the age of 11. I blindly accepted this until, one day, I opened up the testing manual and realised that a child predicted a B may have only a 30% chance of gaining a B, a 20% chance of gaining a C, a 25% percent change of gaining an A and so on. At the individual level, these predictions were basically meaningless, but aggregated, they did tell us something about what we could expect from the cohort and what a particularly good or bad set of GCSE result might look like.

Expanding on Rimfield et al.’s argument, should we abandon assessing the years between the age of 11 and GCSEs because we could just predict the GCSEs? That sounds absurd and the reason it sound absurd is because we intuitively understand variation at the individual level – that some students will work harder than others or suddenly grasp a topic they had previously disliked.

And we have no reason to suspect that any teacher assessments at the age of 16 would generally be as valid as exams once they become high stakes.

We need to bear in mind Goodhart’s Law which is commonly phrased as, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Teacher assessments are currently low stakes and do not count for anything. How do teachers come up with them? In my experience, it is by extrapolating from the results of assessments sat in school that are often drawn from similar questions to the ones currently on the exams.

Yet imagine that teacher assessment now routinely determined future career and university opportunities. The pressure would become intense. The point of an exam is that if you sit a student in a room in silence and break off contact with the outside world, you can be pretty sure that any work they produce is their own. Yes, the wealthy can advantage their children through tutoring or by getting them in to better schools, but the students still ultimately have to do it for themselves in the exam.

Once you build a fuzzier system, the opportunity for advantage becomes far greater. Coursework may be partly written by a tutor. Perhaps we decide to create a more holistic system than one with a narrow focus on exams and start factoring in aspects such as community service? That sounds like a marvellous idea until we realise that the impoverished kid who has to work at weekends has less opportunity for community service than the rich one. Ultimately, the only way we can introduce any fairness into a teacher assessment system is to base it on fairly formal assessments that look at lot like exams. We end up replacing nationally standardised exams with a patchwork of idiosyncratic ones, hoping that they are somehow measuring the same things. Why would we do that?

Exams exist for a reason. They are the worst possible way of performing high stakes assessment, apart from all the other ones.

Teachers will navigate these difficult times with professionalism and humanity. They will do the best for their students – I am certain of that. But let us not pretend that crisis measures are better than the rigorous systems we have developed over time.

Habits

“It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.”

Alfred North Whitehead

I was in the habit of going to the gym. At 5.30 am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I would haul myself out of bed, dress in the dark, grab a water bottle and head to Anytime Fitness. I disliked the start but felt good by the end.

Then, one day, I turned up and the gym was closed for refurbishment – I must have missed that email. I tried going to the next nearest branch but that was an extra 15 minutes, which makes a difference at that time of day. I watched Facebook closely as the gym manager posted photos of the progress being made and I messaged him to ask for an opening date. Eventually, my local gym did reopen but that was just about the same time that the COVID-19 event hit and now I’m not sure if I even should go. My habit is trashed.

I don’t know why but we tend to overvalue the concept of thinking about things. Perhaps we believe that smart people think and really smart people think really deeply. If being smart is desirable – a proposition teachers are likely to buy into – then we should cultivate deep thinking in our students as well as ourselves.

This may be what lies behind the veneration of metacognition – thinking about thinking. I am sceptical of the extreme broadness of this category of educational approaches. If we are told that something involves metacognition then it could range from something potentially counterproductive, such as giving over subject time to a discussion of ‘learning muscles’, to something quite useful such as teaching study skills. It is good for students to know that quizzing (retrieval practice) is better than re-reading notes and that practising it little-and-often (spaced practice) is better than a block of last-minute cramming before an exam.

But let’s just consider that example for a moment. Would you rather have a student who knows about retrieval practice and spaced practice or one who is in the habit of doing their homework? Let’s assume the homework you set is not pointless – that there’s no making posters or finishing off class work or having a chat with the cat about Napoleon. Let’s assume your homework honours the principles of retrieval practice and spaced practice. We have one student who knows about these principles and one who enacts them. Which is better?

I suspect one prerequisite of genius is to have entire classes of concepts that are not consciously registered at all, freeing-up the mind for the objects of deliberation. Sometimes this may be achieved through omission – the absent-minded professor with unruly hair who forgets to eat is a stereotype for a reason. But often it is because the stuff you or I would deliberate over has become unconscious and automatic to the genius.

One way of developing automaticity is through habit. My students don’t need to be told what to do when they enter my classroom. They just do it. There is a routine or habit that means they can centre their minds elsewhere, ideally on the maths. The right habits make things easy.

As we enter uncharted waters, it may be worth taking a little time to think about these habits. Are you still at school? Are you at home now? What routines do you want to develop? What do you want to avoid? What habits do you want your children to develop – both the ones you teach and the ones who may be in your own home?

Don’t make vows you cannot keep. Don’t commit to 20 km every day on that rowing machine that you haven’t been on since Amazon delivered it early last year.

Instead, choose routines that are achievable, that can grow with you, that support those you care for and honour those you love.

Weird Days

Something strange is happening and it’s making everyone anxious. There is no set of guidelines to follow and that’s unsettling. Governments who are trying to do their best – I don’t buy conspiracy theories although I do buy incompetence – are facing demands for answers to questions that are, as yet, unanswerable.

We worry about our loved ones and ourselves. I don’t want to think about the distance between my family and me now that the flights have stopped. And I do not want to have to go to the supermarket and find that I cannot buy chicken or milk or toilet rolls even though there is enough for everyone.

So we have seen what panicked people may do, but we need to keep that in proportion. A supermarket serves a few thousand people and, by my reckoning, about 50 people bulk-buying toilet rolls – before the limits kicked-in – would have cleared one out. It is not the majority of us who are losing our minds. And plenty are stepping up. There are the scientists looking for drugs to treat this accursed virus and a vaccine to prevent it. At the start of the outbreak, we were told a vaccine would take 12-18 months. I think we may have it sooner. There are the health-workers and delivery drivers. And there is the community spirit. People are doing their best to look after each other.

But it is uncertain. It is strange. Is that joke forming in your head a spirit-raising dram of gallows humour or a jarringly bitter swill? It’s hard to be sure.

Our work, education, is on the brink of something. Schools have closed across the world although not yet in Australia. That means that we will all need to come to terms with some form of remote learning. I have been practising with Microsoft Teams. Will this be the great disruption that heralds a new dawn for digital learning? We shall see. I suspect that we will all be eager to get back into our classrooms once the virus is vanquished, more aware than ever of the limitations of the technology, more appreciative of eye contact and the ability to read a room. Although I also predict some of the tech – the best bits – may stick.

Exams have been cancelled in England. Standardised literacy and numeracy tests have been cancelled in Australia. Some cannot contain their glee while others are disturbed. What is the British government going to do to determine grades for university entry? They don’t know. Nobody does. Yet.

Consultants find themselves without work. Conferences are cancelled. But perhaps there is the germ of an opportunity, a way to rethink what we do. Let’s see.

Whatever happens, I have faith in teachers. I know how hard they work and what they value. I know how much society values them, even if it doesn’t seem like that at times.

We’ll be back. We won’t really ever go away.