The PTE Newsletter – Tuesday 18 May

With the easing of COVID restrictions, including at secondary schools, hopefully we’re getting that bit closer to a more ‘normal’ time. With the half term break round the corner, here’s to a smooth rest of the week.

Our Philosophy – Wide Curriculum

We want educational excellence for every child. We believe that this is achieved when all schools have a strong culture and a great curriculum, underpinned by four key mantras:

  • Warm/Strict
  • Knowledge Rich
  • High Ambition
  • Wide Curriculum

When schools are built on these foundations, every child can thrive, no matter their background or starting point. Here’s the detail of what that means and why, on the fourth of these mantras, it’s the right approach

What do we mean by…a “Wide Curriculum”?

When people talk about a school’s curriculum, they are usually referring to the topics that are taught in timetabled lessons in a formal way. Of course, this is a hugely important part of education, and the focus that takes up the majority of time in school. Literature, maths, science, humanities, languages, the arts, technology and more – these are the things the knowledge of which makes us functioning adult humans, and which there is therefore an overwhelming imperative for every child to understand and enjoy.

Most children don’t live with a mathematician, scientist, historian, or linguist, so this important knowledge has to be taught to children in schools over the years. Schools bring pupils together with subject experts and take them on the learning journey in well-structured and creative ways that make the learning more memorable and enjoyable.

So much for the formal curriculum. However, if children are to flourish and receive a knowledge-rich experience in the truest sense, one that helps them develop into fully rounded adults, then they need to experience a wider curriculum, one that goes beyond the formal and ‘academic. Many such development experiences will, for most though not all children, come from family and community and elsewhere. But there are lots of these broader areas where schools can – and most schools do – make a big difference, by again organising activities and bringing pupils together with experts. Just as most of us don’t live with academic experts, so most of us don’t have at home an opera singer, piano teacher, brain surgeon, football, swimming coach or a castle in the backyard.

So, the wider curriculum embraces and builds in all those other really important things that enhance life: sport (for fun as well as for the competition), work experience, musical performances, drama, chess, clubs and electives, guest speakers on multiple topics, careers advice, competitions, assemblies, culture, concerts, trips and so on.

House systems, school councils, prefects – these all provide the opportunity for children to learn about contributing to a democratic process, participating in fora to improve their school, public speaking, representing their peers, formulating ideas and proposals and realising the restrictions of budgets, opposing ideas and the lessons learnt from both winning and losing. Read more

Latest news & views

Lots of COVID-related stories & opinion pieces today.

The general requirement for secondary pupils to wear masks at school was lifted yesterday. The Guardian reported on some of the concerns about this held by different people. The Department for Education said on Saturday that “the latest data shows infection rates continuing to decrease” and that not having to wear masks would “improve interaction between teachers and students”.

However, Bury, Bolton, Bedford and other councils have written to parents, advising schoolchildren to “retain the use of face coverings as per the current arrangements, until further notice”. The Telegraph reports that Whitehall officials have agreed this approach with some of these councils.

The NAHT has called for headteachers to be released from the burden of school-based test and trace, to help prevent “an exodus” of school leaders, a union warned today.

They have calculated that since September some heads have spent 100 hours or more on identifying positive cases in their schools and informing contacts that they need to self-isolate, with an average of 44 hours – more than a working week.

Oak National Academy has created new resources for schools planning to host summer schools or set work for pupils over the break to help them overcome the disruption caused to their learning by the Covid pandemic. The new support covers early years through to GCSE, and includes “priority” units and lessons in maths, English, science, history and geography.

The joy of TAGS continues in secondary schools, and Ofqual has released findings from a survey of teachers it carried out after last year’s “centre assessed grades”, which it used to inform the TAG process for this year. Among other things, it found that one in three staff felt “undue pressure”, especially from their SLT.

Ofqual has also carried out a literature review on teacher assessments, which has highlighted again the issue of teacher bias, finding evidence of “a slight bias” in favour of girls and mixed evidence on ethnicity, but bias against disadvantaged pupils and those with SEN was “a common finding”. The full report can be found here.

With impeccable timing, the Director General of the Joint Council for Qualifications – the body which helps coordinate the exams process in England – has written an article saying that exam boards don’t deserve the criticism they’re getting for the workload created by TAGs. He says “It might be tempting to assume that, while teachers are facing the enormous task of assessing and grading their own students, exam boards have much less to do. But this is far from the truth.” This has not been received well by some – but the article is worth reading to understand what exam boards are up to this year.

On the op-ed front, William Hague has called for Boris Johnson to trigger a schools revolution” post-COVID. He makes some classic points, saying that “The digital world creates the chance for far more personalised learning, with the right combination of tasks, games and challenge for each individual every day. Far more information can be delivered online, with teachers then leading the discussion of it.” With Tony Blair all over the airwaves, and personalised learning being pushed, it’s like 2007 all over again!

Finally, TeacherTapp has released some research it did on what inspires teachers. Many said they were inspired to teach by other people in their lives. The most popular answer – given by over one-third (36 per cent) of respondents – was to credit their own teachers.

Have a great day!