The PTE Newletter – Tuesday 9 March

Before diving into today’s roundup, we wanted to say congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in getting pupils back to school this week.

The past year has been tough on everyone. It has led to parents and teachers working together – probably like never before – to support home learning, key workers’ and vulnerable children in school, feeding families, administering COVID tests… The list goes on.

Schools never “closed”, but as they fully reopen it is clear that there is a renewed respect for what they do. There’s also a better understanding by society of how complicated and hard it is to run a great school for every child.

Long may this appreciation continue.

The solutions to the challenges we face already exist within our schools. 

The past year has been tough on everyone.

We all faced unprecedented challenges, and we’ve all had to go about dealing with them in our own way. Every person, family, organisation, community & country has had to feel its way through the darkness and hope that it’s made the right decision at each point.

This has been especially the case in the way we educate our young people. Parents and teachers have worked together probably like never before – to support home learning and teaching in schools, feed families, assess pupils, determine qualification grades, administer COVID tests… The list goes on.

Schools never “closed.” However, as they fully reopen it is clear that there is a renewed respect for what they and their people do. There’s also a better understanding by society of how complicated and hard it is to provide an excellent education for every child.

As we cautiously start to move from a day-to-day existence and consider the post-COVID future, it is only natural that evergreen debates about the purpose of education and organisation of schools bubble up once more.

Whether it’s online conferences, newspaper editorials, comment pieces, social media, or just between friends over the phone – there is a definite sense that Building Back Better for schools shouldn’t mean a return to how things were before.

It is completely legitimate for people to want to shape the education that our children receive. What young people should learn, and how they do so, is something we should all care about. And there is no one answer to the questions that inform these discussions. It is one of the things that makes working in and around schools so stimulating and refreshing.

However, along with the excitement of the new and different, it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of the importance of continuity and consistency at a time like this. Read More.

Latest news & views

There’s been lots of coverage since Friday on the full reopening of schools this week. And it all seems to have gone quite well so far.

A survey from the Association of School and College Leaders on Friday found that over half of secondary schools were facing problems with getting consent for testing. Geoff Barton, ASCL’s general secretary, warned this could be because some parents are simply not returning forms, and also that some parents may be “nervous” about testing because they have “seen or heard misinformation”.

This concern was reiterated by Steve Chalke, CEO of Oasis Academies, who said that there were “substantial” numbers of families who are “very wary” about the Covid-19 testing regime. He believed that the risk of having to self-isolate and miss work due to home test results was a driver here.

However, a follow up survey by ASCL yesterday found that a majority of schools had COVID test take up of 90% or better, and a quarter had between 80 and 89%. This is a testament to the efforts made by all in this regard.

And it took place against a backdrop of some confusion as to when pupils would need to self-isolate in the event of a positive test result. There was clarification eventually, but not before some toing and froing.

It’s not all COVID in the education news though.

The Sunday Times reported how the number of teachers at private schools who are paid £100,000 or more has jumped by 25 per cent in just two years. Eton College came top, with 47 staff earning a six-figure sum, 16 staff at Harrow were in this bracket and 12 at Brighton College. The reasons behind the rise, and the possible impact on the state sector were considered. (The TES covered the story here.)

The Guardian reported onthe growth of the “93% Club”, open only to students who went to state schools. Founded by a state-educated student who went to Bristol University, it’s now spreading nationally, and starting to get corporate sponsorship too.

In a compelling article, Alka Seghal-Cuthbert argues that “anti-racist” dogma shouldn’t replace real curriculum thinking. She worries that a perfect storm of competing pressures threatens to shortcut critical thinking about curriculum – with the need to give every child a knowledge-rich experience clashing with the urge to promote social-justice issues through content choices.

And the evergreen debate on the purpose of education and schooling goes on.

The Sunday Timeslead editorial argued that post-COVID recovery in schools “is an opportunity for meaningful reform.”It listed online learning, the shape of the school year, pay policies, a prescriptive curriculum, and the exam system as in need of change.

Peter Hyman was making the same kind of case in the Guardian, arguing that the return to class is a chance to “put young people’s wellbeing at the heart of education” and to reimagine school with this in mind.

A counter argument was made by Paul Goodman, the editor of Conservative Home. He examines the various cases for change being made, and wonders if “there is a danger in this wandervogel mood… of the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.”

(And there was lots of debate about these issues at the Foundation for Education Development’s conference last week.)

As ever, lots to think about. May the rest of your week run smooth.