The PTE Newsletter – Tuesday 15 June

We learned yesterday evening that Freedom Day and the lifting of the final COVID restrictions has been postponed until July 19th at the earliest. This means that many traditional end-of-year events, including those to mark pupils leaving primary school, will not now take place once again.

It’s disappointing – but we know that parents and teachers across the land will once more do everything they can to keep things special and create memories, albeit in different ways to usual.

Knowledge Rich – what should schools actually teach their pupils?

Here at PTE we believe that a knowledge-rich curriculum (KRC) is an essential part of any great education.

In recent years, much has been written on what a KRC actually is and how one should be developed. There are many different views on this, but what they all have in common is the belief that it is what children are taught that really matters, and everything else – pedagogy, assessment, qualifications, etc – serves that, not the other way around.

With this as the starting point, one then has to make some really important, but really hard, decisions about what gets onto the curriculum – and also what has to be left out. After all, kids have only finite time at school & limited working memory, so we need to think carefully about what things are most important and why – in each subject and across the curriculum as a whole.

It’s at this point that we often revert to generic statements such as “the best that’s been thought and said” – but what does that mean in practice? We also have to consider the “opportunity cost” to every decision made too – if we use up the time available to include X and Y, what can we not include as a result?

This is where it gets tricky – and where the really interesting part of the debate is to be had, even amongst those of us who are committed to the knowledge-rich approach. Why? Well, WHAT we consider to be important for pupils is inevitably going to be informed by our views on WHY we educate kids.

On this there is rarely full agreement, even between close colleagues who work together every day. Given that we don’t have agreement in the staff room, it’s no surprise that we don’t have agreement on this across society as a whole. And you know what? That’s okay.

Indeed, it can even be argued that having different views on what should be taught and what has to be left out is essential. If all schools taught exactly the same stuff, then that which wasn’t taught could be lost to society forever. So having different things taught by different places means more of what mankind has learned to date can be passed down to the next generation. READ MORE HERE

Latest news & views

Hamid Patel, CEO of Star Academies, has been knighted for services to education in the Queen’s birthday honours list. He was one of quite a few teachers, headteachers and others in education to be recognised for their services to education. After everything that schools have done for the nation’s children and parents during the pandemic, it’s lovely to see people recognised.

Ofsted has clarified schools won’t be marked down for letting their year 11 cohort leave before the end of the academic year, despite its chief inspector raising concerns over the practice. In the Guardian last week Amanda Spielman said that it was “concerning” to see secondary schools allowing pupils to end the summer term early due to learning lost during the pandemic, and that Ofsted would “want to know” how schools used the remainder of the term to support these pupils.

Roger Taylor – the former Chair of Ofqual, not the drummer in rock band Queen – has published a report for the Centre for Progressive Policy, in which he opens up about last year’s exams debacle for the first time.

Two particularly interesting revelations stand out: Ofqual wanted to scrap A-levels completely but the DfE wouldn’t allow it, and it allowed obviously wrong” A level grades to be awarded under its algorithm in 2020, knowing that they would need to be changed on appeal. It’s fascinating stuff.

Staying with exam grades – a survey of over 450 headteachers conducted by ASCL found that, because of the assessment burden being shifted from exam boards to class teachers and schools, nearly two-thirds favoured a rebate of at least 75 percent of fees for GCSE and A-level exams.

This comes as it emerges that exam boards will use only one-seventh of the usual number of examiners this summer and a letter calling for teachers to receive a £500 bonus for all the extra work they have done gained its ten-thousandth signature.

Curbs on children’s access to online pornography need to be brought in urgently to stop the spread of an activity that is partly to blame for normalising sexual harassment in schools, according to the new Children’s Commissioner for England.

Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza has urged governments and tech companies to introduce age verification checks. She warned that access to hardcore pornography was shaping children’s expectations of relationships and was partly to blame for thousands of testimonies of sexual harassment by schoolchildren published on the Everyone’s Invited website over the last few months.

The founder of the country’s first “no frills” private school – which charges just £60 a week per pupil – says that the school will be at its 65-pupil capacity from September and will break even for the first time, after only a few years. The Independent Grammar School: Durham (IGSD) opened in 2018 with just six pupils but now has 47 children on its books. Whatever your thoughts on such things are, it’s a fascinating project to watch develop.

Onto comment pieces now – and Robert Halfon, Chair of the Education Select Committee, and Professor Lee Eliot Major, who advises the Government on social mobility issues, have written for the Telegraph on proposals to help pupils catch up on lost learning. One idea that stands out for its boldness is for schools to not be judged “outstanding” by Ofsted unless they can prove they are narrowing the achievement gap between the poorest pupils and their peers.

Dylan Williams gives his expert view on what the research has to say about feedback. As he points out: “Advice for teachers about feedback is not hard to find. Books, articles, postings on social media and professional development sessions confidently assure teachers that feedback should be specific, positive and immediate. While effective feedback does often have these features, a quick survey of the research on feedback shows that research in this area is nowhere near as clear cut as these assurances would suggest…”

Ian Rowe addresses the thorny issue of recovery funding for schools, and ponders if the Treasury’s resistance to stumping up more cash was informed by a lack of firm evidence for the kind of expensive things proposed. He makes the case that better funding will only come with better evidence.

Finally, the Bennifer of EduTwitter, Mark and Zoe Enser, have articles in the TES on similar themes. Zoe writes about how teachers can and should find a balance for themselves and their families, especially given the pressures of recent times. Meanwhile, Mark focuses on the stresses faced by middle leaders and offers tips as to how they can be managed and reduced.

Lots to mull over. Have a great week in the heat!