The PTE Newsletter – Friday 25 June

Well that’s another week of school nearly done, and hopefully a restful weekend awaits people later. It’s Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s birthday today – we hope he has good one and that there is lots of jelly and ice cream.

Question: how old is our baby-faced EduSec today?

Answer is at the bottom of the email.

“Understanding How We Learn – A Visual Guide” – Dr Yana Weinstein & Dr Megan Sumeracki

If you want a book to understand more about the science of learning, and how to use it for your pupils or yourself, then there is nothing better than “Understanding How We Learn – A Visual Guide” by Dr Yana Weinstein and Dr Megan Sumeracki.

They are two members of “The Learning Scientists”, cognitive psychological scientists interested in research on education. Their main research focus is the science of learning – hence their name. Their work aims to make scientific research on learning more accessible to students, teachers, parents and others – and this book does this brilliantly.

The book has a particular focus on taking the research evidence and turning it into effective classroom strategies for teaching and learning. The authors stress how important it is for us to move beyond anecdote and intuition in our planning and practice, as often these are less effective, or just plain unhelpful.

With fantastic explanatory illustrations by Oliver Caviglioli – themselves designed and deployed with cognitive science principles in mind – the book first examines the disconnect between science and education practice, the different types of evidence available to us, and the problems with intuition and prevailing misconceptions. READ MORE HERE

Latest news & views

As we come towards the end of the academic year, many of the usual events and rituals for this time are still banned or discouraged. The DfE has confirmed that schools CAN run sports days and invite parents along to watch. Sadly, the clarification came too late for most, and the language used by the department was hardly the most encouraging.

It wouldn’t be a news roundup without some Ofsted-related articles, and today is no different!

Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman gave a (virtual) speech at the (virtual) Festival of Education, and committed some minor news in the process. Firstly,she called for schools to not let the need to help pupils catchup warp their activities: “The magic of teaching – imparting knowledge, developing skills and building confidence – will mostly happen where it always happens. We should not let the pressure to fill learning gaps bend what schools and colleges do out of shape. Broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation is still exactly what’s needed from our schools.”

She also warned about the growing problem of militant activism in-and-outside the school gates stopping teachers from doing their job properly.

In the House of Commons, Gavin Williamson was questioned by the Education Select Committee and told them that the government is considering speeding up the timetable of Ofsted inspections to allow schools to demonstrate improvements.

The thorny issue of exam boards giving rebates on exam entry fees has started to be addressed. WJEC Eduqas has said that it will discount fees by 42 per cent this summer – it’s the first exam board to confirm the amount it will reduce costs for schools by. All four exam boards have said they will do this, but the remaining three haven’t yet said how big the rebate will be. Given how large a typical secondary’s exam bill is, it could be a significant amount of cash heading back to schools.

Education unions are continuing to call for older school pupils to be vaccinated. It comes as the number of pupils having to miss school to self-isolate continues to increase, and some schools are completely shutting and switching to remote learning as the number of positive tests is so high.

A new report is out from think tank Onward and free school charity New Schools Network. “Lost Learning” examines geographical disparities in education, and makes a number of suggestions for government policy to address these.

NSN’s director Unity Howard said that underperforming schools should be replaced by a new wave of “phoenix” free schools as a last resort, “run by people with a proven track record”.

Another recommendation is that outstanding teachers should be encouraged to work in underperforming schools for a minimum of three years through a £10,000 salary top-up payment.

Onward’s Will Tanner had an article in yesterday’s Times arguing that levelling up must start with schools: “After five years in which schools have taken a back seat to universities and apprenticeships, ministers need to start throwing the kitchen sink at these places. We should be doing everything possible to convince the best academy trusts and the best teachers to take on underperforming schools in the hardest areas, and recognising their efforts financially. And if schools fail to improve after repeated interventions, they should be closed to make way for new schools run by those with a proven track record. Hard targets should be set and extra funding found.”

And finally on the news front: Devon County Council (DCC) has awarded its schools £10 per employee as a “token of appreciation” for their hard work and resilience during the pandemic, to spend “in whatever way they think best to thank teaching and support staff”.

Now for some views…

There’s an interesting interview in the TES with Caroline Derbyshire, the new Chair of lobby group Headteachers Roundtable. Definitely worth a read.

Schools Week has a very interesting interview too – with Roger Taylor, drummer from rock group Queen former Chair of Ofqual. Last week he released an essay for the Centre for Progressive Policy and in the interview he goes into more detail about some of the issues that arose with exams last summer.

Tabitha McIntosh has another spiky and humorous piece in the TESquestioning the Education Select Committee’s report earlier this week that said schools should not use phrases like “white privilege” lest it hold back white working class kids.

Sammy McHugh argues for shorter (but more frequent) schools holidays, and Gemma Penny busts five myths around how school timetables are constructed.Both are a lot of fun.

That’s it for now. Have a great Friday and a lovely weekend.

P.S. the answer to our question up top: Gavin Williamson is 45 years old today. 🥳