There have been many grand announcements over the last few months, but the one that is causing me most anxiety is the recent Government Announcement for a programme of 1:1 Tuition or similar, to help children catch up. Although the intention behind it may be good, it reveals to me a government that is totally out of touch with what schools really do – for too long I have been a part of that system–measuring success by the percentage of children achieving an age expected or better score in English and
Maths. When your results are good or good enough you can breathe, your job secure, when the results dip the anxiety hits, will I still have my job, will our current good grading be down-graded?
Just before the lockdown came into place the biggest stressor in education was the new OFSTED framework–the apparent shift in focus from results to the wider curriculum. I was told by our Inspector during our own OFSTED Inspection, 2 weeks before lockdown, that me justifying our approach to English and Maths by the gradual, year on year improvement in outcomes was not of interest, she wanted to know what was happening now. On the other-hand I have colleagues that tried to showcase their approach to the same subjects told their current grading could not be upgraded while their results were still below National averages. And this is where my resistance to
the National Catch Up programme stems from. A National Catch Up will be focused on National Tests – our measurement of children on their ability to complete a test paper in a set period of time.
I honestly don’t think there is one head teacher that is not thinking about how to support children back into school, how to help them readjust to learning in the classroom – but by introducing this catch up programme now – they are taking away our knowledge of our context, of what our children need. They are re-establishing their power over schools by deciding for us what our focus needs to be.
What heads do need is some guidance now about what schools might look like in September. Will the 2m rule be reduced to 1m or abolished altogether? Will there be a need to maintain the integrity of ‘bubbles’ ( ‘prides’ as we are calling them) and if so, how do we even do the interventions we currently do let alone any ‘catch up’?
There is much talk of recovery curriculums and as always sudden experts promoting their approach and courses but for me, in my context, having the freedom to introduce a more Early Years Approach all the way to Year 6, will enable us to focus on what we need to.
Firstly, the Prime areas–language and Communication, PSHE and Physical. Some of our children will have spoken little or no English for months, some will not have been outside at all and all of them will need to find ways of dealing with the new way of doing things. We will need to give them the language they need to come to terms with what has happened in the last few months but we also need to give them hope and joy. Of course we will teach reading, writing and maths but we will do so in a way that recognises what they need and when. The term ‘plugging the gaps’ implies that by teaching children how to answer SATS questions you can some how fix the disadvantage gap and all teachers know that is nonsense. The gap starts with children’s language and experiences, even their nutrition, and is widened because of our unrelenting focus on English and Maths as the only way of measuring whether a child is Secondary ready. We need to be looking at our curriculum (again). The 2014 Curriculum is not fit for purpose–its writing is too secretarial and not enough about developing your own voice, the maths is too much and too soon, and the reading is about being able to answer questions, not immersing yourself in a book and building a schema of knowledge and experiences through reading to help you make sense of the world around you. Finally, don’t get me started on how the Government identifies the disadvantaged children. If it is Free School Meals then all educators know that that misses a huge amount of children whose parents are earning just enough and who have been most likely most impacted by the lockdown rules.
There was a lot of grand talk at the start of lockdown–of educators promising that when schools do return we will do things differently. If the Government really wants schools to help our children ‘catch up’ then announce now that there will be no high stakes testing next year,(if ever) that we will be given the time we need to help children settle back into school and to learn how to learn again, and that they will announce soon what measures will still need to be in place in September so that we can plan now. Commit to funding additional teachers if classes need to be smaller, let us know whether there will still need to be a bubble system in place and how we maintain that, consider where we can find extra spaces for outdoor learning and physical exercise, and let us do our job.