Blog: Leora Cruddas on challenges and the 'ordinary magic' needed now

23 April 2020

Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, shared her views with our Education Advisory Group this week on the systemic challenges facing the sector and the opportunities

The challenges we face are perhaps grouped into three sets of impacts: educational impact, social impact and economic impact.

Educational impact

We know the educational impact will be significant. Despite our best efforts, groups of children will return to school – whenever schools are re-engaged – having missed substantial parts of their education. There will need to be reintroduction into the routines of schooling and possibly the introduction of some new routines as we learn how to deal with new scientific and medical guidance.

There is a lot of talk about catch up – the best ‘catch up’ we can provide is intensive teaching. So we need our teachers to be the best they can be when we return to school. This is why we need to be focusing on high quality professional development during the period of lock down.

Social impact

We know there has been a significant increase in domestic violence. We believe there will be implications of the lock down for mental ill-health. Some families are under considerably more pressure confined in their homes. Some children and young people will be bereaved. There are families we were already worried about before COVID-19. For some of these, the lock down will have intensified stress on family life. There are also families where we had some concerns – and some others where we had no concerns – who are now under considerable stress.

So we need to think about our welfare and pastoral systems now – and at the point we re-engage schools.

Economic impact

Our government has put in place safety nets to protect as many adults as possible from the economic impact of COVID-19. But for some families, the economic impacts are likely to be felt for some time to come. The strong likelihood is that we will see a rise in child poverty, with the wider welfare issues that go along with that. This is a challenge for us all.


How do we respond to these challenges? I think resilience theory may help us. Resilience is a characteristic of all living systems. Living systems are purposeful, complex and adaptive. In resilience theory, systems operate at many different scales—ranging from individual cells, to higher organisms, to sophisticated communities, to entire ecosystems.

So we need to build resilience – of our children and young people, families, schools and communities.  Ann Mastin, writing in The American Psychologist in 2001, says that “the study of resilience in development has overturned many negative assumptions and deficit-focused models about children growing up under the threat of disadvantage and adversity. The most surprising conclusion emerging from studies of these children is the ordinariness of resilience.” Her conclusion is that resilience is made of ordinary rather than extraordinary processes. She calls this ‘ordinary magic’.

Ordinary magic in extraordinary times

So how do we practice ordinary magic in these extraordinary times? We harness the ordinary magic of schools – strong, purposeful teaching; a planned curriculum; powerful welfare and pastoral systems.

There will be more things we need to think about as we plan to re-engage. There will not be a perfect time or perfect evidence. The government will make decisions on the best evidence we have. And in schools and trusts, we will make the best possible decisions.

The important thing is - we know how to do this. It is what we have always done – making good, thoughtful decisions in the messy complexity of life. The ordinary magic of schools practiced in extraordinary times.