The PTE Newsletter – Tuesday 6 July

It’s been another few days with the education news dominated, understandably, by Covid-related stories. With some parts of England breaking up for the summer this week, we’re all hoping that plans for next year – regarding Covid rules, exams, and so on – are shared ASAP.

In the meantime, schools across the land continue to do a grand job holding things together the best they can as the country prepares to finally “unlock” for good.

High Ambition – why exams work

Here at PTE, we’re passionate about schools having High Ambition for all their pupils, to ensure that children have the widest and most fulfilling range of options open to them when they enter the adult world.

We’re obviously not the only ones to want this. We’re also far from the only people who have clear views on how this is best achieved. It seems you can’t turn a corner in the world of education at the moment without bumping into yet another commission or campaign looking to reinvent schooling – and in particular the exam system.

Whether it’s The Times’ Education Commission, the NEU’s Assessment Campaign, Pearson’s Future of Qualifications and Assessment research project, ResPublica’s Lifelong Learning CommissionRethinking Assessment, or the Foundation for Education Development, the list goes on.

Lots of people care passionately about what and how we teach young people, and how we check how well they’ve actually learned it all over time. It’s why schools and what they do is always in the public eye. And it’s also why it sometimes feels as though everyone has an opinion on every decision taken by a school or teacher.

This is especially the case when it comes to testing pupils. Many of us have tales from our own school days about an exam going really well, or disastrously, and the impact it had on us as a result. Understandably, it is often these personal experiences that most strongly inform our views on the topic.

Assessment is an essential part of the teaching and learning processes. It’s how teachers and pupils judge what and how firmly the things taught have been grasped. It informs next steps for planning lessons or revision. And as well as being formative in these ways, there are important points in the journey where we have summative assessments – summaries or judgements on where a pupil is in terms of what they know and can do, be it absolute or relative to other pupils in their cohort or over time. READ MORE HERE

Latest news & views

Today we should finally find out how the Covid rules will change in school.

The Prime Minister announced yesterday how restrictions will be relaxed from July 19th. Regarding schools he said that Gavin Williamson would today outline a move away from sending “bubbles” home and against isolation for pupils who have only been in contact with cases, so as to “greatly reduce the impact on schools of Covid outbreaks… And obviously the way forward is with testing rather than by sending the bubbles home.

At the same time as the Prime Minister’s press conference, the new Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave a statement to the House of Commons, saying “on July 19 it is our plan to remove bubbles and to end the requirement for early years settings, schools and colleges to routinely carry out contact tracing… I will have more to say on how we intend to exempt under 18s who are close contacts from the requirement to self isolate.

We’re all awaiting the details with interest! The need for a different approach is emphasised once again with new data released by the Labour Party that suggest pupils in Year 10 have missed an average of one in FOUR days of school this year. Labour is putting the Department for Education under renewed pressure to confirm before the new academic year how 2022 exams will operate.

Some schools are already pondering which measures they will keep next year regardless of government guidance or rules – and Amanda Wilson has shared her thoughts on this in the TES, saying “It should be left to schools to decide what works and what doesn’t, and much will depend on the school’s context and community.

Away from Covid-related news for now, yesterday the ‘i’ ran a story suggesting that the Government is looking to roll out a national ban on mobile phones in schools from Christmas or Easter. The Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza, formerly of this parish, told the i “The new move is helpful… I think it’s generally a positive thing, it’s something lots of us have been doing for a while and I think there is a general groundswell of support for it. If you look at France, they’ve had a mobile ban in place for three years and I think it’s gone very well. It’s a bit of a non-issue and I’m pretty sure that’s how it will be for here.

On this very topic, Laura Rowlands has a good piece in the TES, explaining how a ban was introduced at her school: “After all, if you’ve had mobiles allowed in schools up until now, it will take more than a note in the newsletter if you want parental support and compliance from students. But it can be done – as we discovered in my school.

A review into the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) sector published its report yesterday, and it has ruffled some feathers. Among other recommendations, it proposes that all teacher training providers should go through a re-accreditation process. The initial reaction from the sector has been one of concern, with it described as a “wrecking ball” that could detrimentally affect the supply of teachers for years to come.

Emma Hollis, of the National Association of School-Based Teacher Trainers (NASBTT) writes that ”taken together, the recommendations of the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) market review final report, published today, represent an immediate and catastrophic risk to the teacher supply chain and the quality and availability of provision.

In terms of the actual details, TES has a good summary of the review, as does Schools Week.

BBC Bitesize has removed references to the “benefits” of climate change on its website, following complaints. The website listed “healthier outdoor lifestyles”as one of the pluses of having warmer temperatures, as well as easier access to oil in Alaska and Siberia, new shipping routes created by melting ice, and more tourist destinations.

The guide, aimed at GCSE geography students, now only shows the negative impacts of climate change – such as sea levels rising and droughts and floods becoming more likely.

It has emerged that “Britain’s strictest Headteacher” Katharine Birbalisingh is in the running to be the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission. Reactions to this have been as calm and considered as one would expect.

Those are the main stories so far this week. Here’s hoping things stay manageable and England do us proud tomorrow night!