Back to school, back to reality

Some schools returned a few weeks ago, but with all parts of the country now back into the swing of things, it’s worth thinking about what awaits in the academic year ahead.

Thankfully many aspects of school life will be different from last term, and much closer to “normal”. With ‘bubbles’ gone and children and staff able to move around more, hopefully the school experience for everyone will be less regimented and more human.

Of course, the biggest difference right now is how positive test results will be handled. Not requiring all close contacts to isolate should mean far fewer children and staff at home, and much less disruption to lessons and learning.

Things being well, it means schools can focus much more of their energies what they do best: creating a great culture so young people can experience a great curriculum and become the best version of themselves.

We know though that it won’t all be plain sailing. People will have to isolate, and schools will have to continue to enable remote teaching and learning.

Added to this we know that most likely there’ll also be the mass vaccination of 12 to 15 year olds to contend with very soon. Obviously, we’re used to jabs being delivered at school, but nothing on this scale has ever been done before.

While we can’t predict exactly what stumbling blocks will appear in the road and when, we can be sure that people will step up to the mark so that whatever needs to get done, gets done. Parents will do their best to get their children into school and support them in their learning at home; teachers will move heaven and earth to keep the show on the road.

There are of course other things that we can expect to happen that will take us back to the old ‘normal’, including the return of Ofsted inspections and standardised assessments such as SATs, GCSE and A-levels.

These are essential features of the school system that keep it transparent and fair. The alternative approaches used in 2020 and 2021 showed beyond all doubt why externally set and marked exams are the most reliable and valid way of assessing young people. Finding a way to get back to this is one of the biggest challenges we face – so decisions by the exam regulator Ofqual are important and urgent.

The resumption of exams and inspections will, of course, be accompanied by calls to scrap them both. And with the Department for Education reviewing behaviour and exclusions guidance, we can be sure that campaigners opposed to strict and safe schools will do their best to weaken Headteachers’ powers in this regard.

So, it is as vital as ever that parents and teachers continue to be heard in these eternal debates! Here at PTE, we’ll do our bit to help schools become even better for their pupils – watch this space for our activities in this regard.