I spent many a time in my youth trying to build a house of cards. Hour after hour spent delicately balancing just two cards that where so carefully placed that they would support each other. The joy of getting just two to stand was immense. Then I started on the next two and somehow managed to get them to stand as well, and then finally the flat card on top. I would take a deep breath and then begin on the top layer and every now and then, by some small miracle it would work. A tiny pyramid, my own little house of cards, free standing, supporting itself, self sustaining and standing tall and proud.
The smallest jolt, the tiniest gust of wind, the pain of a movement made too quickly and down it would come.
I can’t help but think this is the most pertinent analogy for education at the moment. The whole thing is a house of cards. At every single level.
Nationally, the system is creaking. Attendance of staff and pupils is dropping. Resources are stretched, people are stretched close to breaking. Funding is stretched. Despite all of that, just like the little miracles of my small houses, miracles are happening all over the country, in schools up and down the land. They producing miracles despite a national infrastructure to education that gives them an against the odds chance of succeeding. An inspectorate that leaves leaders drained, filled with dread and living for 2pm each day. One that demoralises and, at times, seems to demean. Just like my model, the national picture seems precarious, like it isn’t far from falling over and collapsing in on itself undoing all the good work.
Locally, schools are struggling. In school absence, pressure from parents, and unsustainable budget, wrestling with Covid recovery with what is in my case no enough money to make a difference. Trying to rebuild education disrupted for two years on a shoe string. In a house of cards, everything supports everything else and a school building is just the same. If one part falls, it can bring everything crashing down. Rebuilding just one part of our schools services feels like a massive achievement, the same as building that very first leaning tower. If it falls at the first hurdle, it’s frustrating but we have the energy to go again and start from scratch. The problem is, it feels like we are getting four or five structures in and then everything falls down. That is harder to come back from.
But wow, the pride it getting it up and running is there. The joy of having things running normally and having children learning is huge. But just like building that tower, the joy is tempered. Tempered by an anxiety that a collapse isn’t far away, that what has been built has been achieved more by luck than design, that the tiniest gust will blow it all over.
Personally, I feel as fragile as that house of cards. I feel that it will not take much to blow me over right now and I can’t be the only one The more I build of myself and the more I put back together the more the weight of it all weighs upon me and the more precarious I feel. Resilience is low. It doesn’t take much to knock me down and it can take a lot to build me back up again.
The pieces that build the house are still there. The pieces that supported each other are still there. The people that helped us build it, are still there.
Those pieces are what need clinging onto, because they are the pieces that matter. The children, the staff, the people…they are why we build the house of cards. They are why we rebuild it time and time again, because some pieces are too important to leave lying on the floor surrounded by the ruins of what is around them.
That’s why we build, that’s why we try again, and that’s why we’ll keep going no matter how many times we get knocked down, because we know what pieces matter and we’ll do whatever we can to get them standing again.