The PTE Newsletter – Friday 5 March

It’s nearly the weekend, and we’re delighted to send you the first of our new-look PTE emails.

We’re making a few changes so that they’re even more useful to readers.

Instead of a daily roundup of news & comment pieces, you will receive a summary of the most pertinent pieces twice a week – every Tuesday and Friday.

Alongside this, we’re launching not one but TWO regular series of articles.

The first series will cover the sorts of things that we’ve always advocated at PTE: the key elements that make great schools, and how they’re being implemented across the country. The intention is for it to become a powerful “how-to” toolkit for parents and teachers everywhere.

Our second series will be reviews of the most important and influential books on education & schooling. A mix of old and new publications, we want this to build into a library of the best that’s been thought and written on these important subjects.

If you’d like to suggest topics for us to cover, or books for us to review – let us know by replying to this email. Even better, if you’d like to write for us on these or any other themes, we would love to hear from you – just get in touch!

This week’s news & views:

Unsurprisingly, most of the recent education news and commentary has been heavily focused on issues around the full reopening of schools. There has also been discussion on how things could or should change because of what everyone, and especially children, have experienced over the past year.

The BMJ last week published an article “Closing schools is not evidence based and harms children”. The authors argue that keeping schools open should be the UK’s top priority, due to the very small risk children and young people face from COVID-19 and hyper-inflammatory syndrome and the increased risks they face due to closures. They also cite a UK study that found no difference in the risk of death from COVID-19 in households with or without children.

Public Health England found that teachers’ risks were similar to other under-65s. Researchers were clear that this didn’t mean teachers faced zero risk by being in school, but that the risks had been mitigated by the measures taken.

On the other hand, joint general secretary of the NEU, Mary Bousted, argues that “Boris Johnson’s ‘Big Bang’ is a risk”. She says that the NEU has followed the science and been proved right time after time, and that the government’s plan ignores the collective view of all the education unions, the scientific advisory body, SAGE and that of his own chief medical officer too.

A row has broken out between the NASUWT union and the DfE as to who would be liable if unvaccinated teachers die from Covid after schools return on Monday. The Union has written to teachers’ employers stating they would be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights if staff died from contracting Covid-19 having been required to return to school pre-vaccination. The DfE has responded in an email to headteachers saying that “it does not automatically follow” that any legal liability would rest with schools if a staff member becomes unwell after being exposed to coronavirus at school.

And there is a great piece about “Managing teachers’ reasonable objections” on reopening, where the author sets out what school leaders need to know to properly manage staff’s reasonable concerns about returning next week.  Everyone is anxious about how things will go, and the pragmatic approach outlined here is definitely one to bear in mind.

A great student perspective was “Once open, schools must stay open for good” in Schools Week by Qais Hussein, a year 12 student at St Mary’s Menston Catholic Voluntary Academy in Leeds. He describes the practical and emotional struggles that students have faced due to lockdown and remote learning: sleep patterns disrupted, confidence dented, and high levels of daily stress.

In terms of how things might change after COVID-19 – the Institute of Economic Affairs released a report “Back to School – and after” making recommendations about changes to work practices, learning, funding, and exams in light of the past year.

Gavin Williamson has said in an interview with the i newspaper that shorter summer holidays and a five-term school year may form part of the government’s plans to help make up for the loss of teaching time during the pandemic. He also said that no Education Secretary had secured more cash for schools, and that he hoped to be in the role for a long time to come.

And in an interview he gave to Schools Week, Williamson pledged to back teachers all the way in terms of the grades they award students this summer. He said he would share responsibility if there is a backlash on results days, and said he had “confidence and faith in teacher judgment” and that a “robust appeals structure” would help deal with potential “challenges” with the system.

All-in-all then, a busy week all round. Have a fantastic weekend!