Education suffers when it is used as a political ball

Monday, June 8

TEACHERS sent home their weekly newsletters today. They are amazing. They showcase the work the children are doing at home and not all of it set by the teachers – testament to the creativity of the children and the resourcefulness of their parents.

Obviously, I want all the children back at school and home learning has been a huge challenge for families.

We know many children have not been engaged with their learning, but we would be foolish to think that there are not positives to take from this experience when we return. Some of the ways of working and communicating, particularly the use of social media, where children are telling their teachers what is going well and what help they need to improve, should be built in to the ways classrooms operate in the years ahead.

The weekend news was rightly dominated by the public rallies held around the country, triggered by the murder of a black American citizen called George Floyd by a policeman.

A girl in year five sent this poster to her teacher.

I spent the afternoon speaking to our home learners of the week. The children were animated about their learning and one was so proud to be nominated by his teacher that he cried.

Tuesday, June 9

THE Education Secretary made a speech in the House of Commons today. He announced most children would not be back in school before September.

Saddened that this is being portrayed by some as due to the resistance of school leaders and teachers to having more children back.

While schools have to respect social distancing rules, it was always a logistical impossibility.

The Secretary got attacked by all parties for not having recovery plans in place. “Kids can go to theme parks, but not school” sums up the confused picture of life as we leave lockdown. Unfortunately, debate in the House of Commons is reduced to a lot of knee-jerk point-scoring from all parties.

Education never fares well when it is used as a political football.

Wednesday, June 10

HERE we go. Plans for summer catch-up are now being drawn up, even though there is real doubt over all children starting returning to school in September.

So then we will have Christmas Catch-up and so it will go on. Is there nobody in the DfE who can look at the bigger picture, do a proper analysis and come up with a long-term vision that might even build something better than what we had before?

Sent off emails to the NAHT, Gavin Williamson, the education spokespeople for the Labour Party and the Lib Dems with a proposal for education recovery. Here goes R, Y1,Y2,Y3,Y4,Y5, Y7, Y8,Y9, Y10, Y12 repeat a year. This will cost the Government nothing this year and will build in additional time for pupils to “catch up” if we are not all back full-time from September.

Y6 and Y11 move on as per usual, but there should be significant additional investment for these two cohorts to provide appropriate support – based on identified need – pastoral as well as academic.

This leaves one pressure point in the system – the children who would be starting school in September – the rising fives. There will be no room for them.

Now, they have missed out on important early years experiences and the start of their school careers will not be how we would want it. So they would remain pre-schoolers. This will put pressure on pre-school provision as the under-fours scrabble for places not vacated by the rising fives. And this is where the investment should go, seizing the opportunity to do things better.

Private nursery provision has been decimated by the pandemic. State nursery provision has been underfunded for some years now. Rather than throw money at some ill-thought out catch-up programmes, there should be a massive injection into pre-school provision.

This would not only save the sector, which is currently at risk of going under, but enable it to be expanded and address the disadvantage gap through universal provision before children start school.

Children would then start school a year later, bringing us closer in line with the best models from around the world.

There would be issues to address around school age, exam years etc but these are insignificant compared to what we can best do to find the best route out of the present crisis.

Time for a lie down!

Thursday, June 11

MEANWHILE, we continue to prepare for September and letters have gone out to families of children starting nursery and Reception in September.

Prepare for this evening’s governor meeting. Do I now invite nursery, Reception and Year One children back to school? I informed parents that I would do that when we moved to Covid Alert Level Three. Unfortunately, basing my decision on the alert level has hit a problem.

On May 10, the PM said the pandemic alert level would be categorised on a scale of one to five in different parts of the country, based on assessments by a new “joint biosecurity centre”.

This centre has not been established yet. It has appointed a chair, Claire Gardiner, but Matt Hancock admitted it still “formally needs to come into existence”.

Tom Hurd, who was the temporary head of the unit had said: “The JBC is expected to reach full operating capacity later in the summer.”

Really helpful.

In other words, I will be waiting a very long time for the JCB to make a decision. I can’t wait for that. So, I made my decision based on the following: The decline in new infection rates in the region; the positive experience of other schools; the success of the key worker bubbles in North and our own risk assessment which has clear guidance on procedures for managing suspected and confirmed cases of covid-19.

The governors support my decision to bring those children back to school – if their parents want it – for the last month of the summer term.

Friday, June 12

INFORMED the whole school community of my decision. Had a lovely phone conversation with a granddad who has been helping his grandson with his maths, remotely, of course – they have not been able to see each other since March. Maths is not taught like how it was to him in the Fifties!

He asked when school re-opens could he watch some maths lessons so that he can carry on helping his grandson. We had a lovely chat. What a nice way to finish the week.