The National Education Union has announced its own “Five Tests” that need to be passed before educational establishments are re-opened – mirroring the health secretary’s tests for the end of this lockdown.
- Reduced numbers of Covid-19 cases – with a “sustained downward trend” and clear systems for contact tracing and testing.
- A national plan for social distancing – with local planning flexibility and PPE availability secured.
- Testing, testing, testing – regular testing for all in schools to avoid Covid hotspots
- Whole school strategy – clear protocols for whole school testing in the event an outbreak of Covid
- Protection for the vulnerable – clear plans for vulnerable groups – including carers and staff with specific needs who require further isolation.
You can sign the petition to support these requirements for re-opening schools here.
There’s also a letter to the Prime Minister, written by the Joint General Secretaries of the NEU, Kevin Courtney and Mary Bousted, here.
We agree that these measures must be in place before our children, young people and staff return to schools and colleges through a carefully managed and phased return. Anything less than this would be in direct contradiction to the statutory duty of care placed on all schools to protect the health, wellbeing and educational needs of pupils.
But we suggest going further.
For many years, we’ve written about our concerns for our current system of education – that it isn’t fit for purpose for any of us in the 21st century.
High-stakes exams, teaching to tests, priorities that can seem devoid of any emphasis on wellbeing, a narrow focus on knowledge rather than skills and attitudes, an overly prescriptive and inflexible curriculum that stymies creativity and individuality – of both pupils and teachers – these all need to be challenged and addressed before we have an education system that is suitable for individuals, schools and future workplaces/workforces.
We can’t let our children and young people – exhausted and frightened by this pandemic – return to the existing system of education without challenging it immediately. We cannot simply and swiftly return, without questioning it, to the testing, the stress, the narrowness of the existing system.
This interruption in schooling has given all educators an opportunity to rethink. Home-schooling and preparing work to be done out of school have enabled teachers to consider alternative learning opportunities. It’s given parents, carers and pupils an opportunity to consider personalised learning on a grand scale – and yes, this must be managed to ensure equity of learning and to ensure nobody gets left behind. It’s enabled learners and their education providers to understand that education and learning are not bound by the constraints of the National Curriculum. It’s allowed teachers’ judgements and assessments to have the legitimacy they deserve. It’s given policy makers and managers time to pause and contemplate the necessity and purpose of GCSEs and of SATs in Key Stage Two (and if it hasn’t, it ought to).
We have a huge opportunity now that shouldn’t be missed, shouldn’t be wasted and ought to be grabbed with great energy.
It must be done with the aim of creating a new educational paradigm.
The government is suggesting that Year Six pupils should be the first to return to school through a phased reversion of normality. Yet, this is supposed to be a time for the “new normal” not the same old ways.
If it’s suggesting that Year Six pupils should return to spend time with their friends before secondary transition separates them, then that would be a good reason. If, however, it’s suggesting a return to school for pre-transition cramming and stressing, then that’s wholly unacceptable. Haven’t our children endured enough over these weeks of lockdown? Where’s the duty of care?
Then there’s the suggestion that Year 10, not 11, should return next. And then the next group to return would be Year 5 pupils. What possible reason would there be for this other than the presumption that these young people will be the next cohort to be tested?
The grim certainty is that we’ve only experienced Phase One of this Covid-19 pandemic. The very stark reality is that there’s a distinct possibility of Phase 2,3,4 of this virus returning and interrupting our lives -undoubtedly into the 2020/2021 academic year. Therefore it’s somewhat premature to think that there will be a resumption of 11+ and 16+ high-stakes tests and exams in the summer of 2021.
There’s also the issue of equity. Would it be fair to only have one cohort of teacher assessed qualifications? Within our existing paradigm, wouldn’t that single out the 2020 school leavers, as incomplete in some way – something that we’d vehemently challenge.
This is our opportunity, our time for reinventing, rethinking, reforming a dysfunctional education system.
In the light of the possible return of this virus, we ought to consider a “high-stakes exam holiday” for a period of three years. During this time, teacher assessment should be the norm whilst plans are put in place for an effective 14-18 curriculum that balances vocational and academic learning that all sensible educators have been crying out for – for decades. The need for a 16+ exam disintegrated as soon as the statutory school-leaving age changed from 16 to 18. It’s pointless! Finland and other countries operate a one-test only policy in their secondary school systems. Why can’t we?
Primary schools should take a permanent holiday from SATs. In a new three-year planning cycle, stringent training and development of teacher assessment should take place. Personalised learning should be carefully considered and planned for.
For now, and only when the National Education Union’s “Five Tests” have been met, schools could continue to work on the existing schemes of work but without national tests. After all, many teachers have used this lockdown time to restructure and consolidate existing programmes. However, the main emphasis right now – as should always be the case– should be the wellbeing of our children and young people.
The impact of isolation and the virus is significant. Our children and young people (and adults) have very likely endured separation, anxiety and sometimes bereavement. Due to years of neglect of PSHE learning, many young people don’t have the skills to manage their feelings and emotions, and their concerns may manifest themselves in challenging behaviours (withdrawal and/or aggression).
Let our children be children for a while. Let them learn but for goodness sake, don’t make them return to an exhausting, soul-stripping, stress-giving system that wholly disregards their needs in a post Covid-19 alien environment.
Start the new paradigm now.