Dear Gavin Williamson, pupils are not the only ones who need to ‘catch up’. You do, too | Education

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I hope you have tooled up your rhetoric during this lockdown: millions of parents deserve sympathy and congratulations for the work we’ve been putting in trying to help our children cope with the over-burdened curriculum that previous governments foisted on schools. This is to take nothing from teachers who, in many cases, have had to do a double job: teach the offspring of key workers, while providing online lessons and work for those at home. Perhaps you’re saving yourself for when schools are fully open, when you’ll make a rousing speech that will fill us all with a sense of achievement.

First, though, have you sorted out the safety problem? The latest indication is that children aged five to 12 are now one of most common groups for coronavirus infection. How sure are you that infected pupils, some asymptomatic, will not pass Covid to the adults in their lives: parents, grandparents who live with them and teachers? A clear statement, backed by strong evidence, would be helpful.

I am, of course, optimistic that the first vaccination I’ve had will help, but I don’t get my second jab till the end of April. I guess from that, there will be thousands of us not fully protected by the time our children or grandchildren return to school. And how certain are you that fully occupied schools will be able to ensure social distancing?

Excuse me for mithering over the preparations – or the lack of them – but perhaps part of my concern stems from your extreme lack of action in relation to GCSEs and A-levels. How come it was possible for Scotland and Wales to make it clear at the beginning of the school year what the arrangements would be for summer 2021, and yet it has proved too difficult for you?

You must know how this indecision affects our children. They are living in a state of unknowing in relation to places in 16-18 schools, colleges and training, and post-18 universities and work. Teachers are producing “predicted grades” that may well end up being, in effect, final grades – fine. On the other hand, you may have up your sleeve some other kind of algorithm fandango, or even some form of spot testing. You are not letting on. We have to hope you will soon catch up.

Even at the best of times, GCSE and A-level courses are a cat-and-mouse game of teachers trying to guess what questions examiners may set, while examiners try to guess the questions teachers may be guessing. Now the cat-and-mouse game has extended to guessing whether there will or won’t be an exam. It is starting to look as if your government’s worship of the exam system is getting in the way of recognising that, in these desperate circumstances, there really is no other way of dealing with this matter other than to accept teachers’ judgments.

Now you and your minister Nick Gibb are busy cooking up a hotchpotch of ideas to do with “catch-up”: longer school days, shortened holidays and the like. From what I have seen, you seem to be making these plans in your bunker, rather than thrashing them out with headteachers, teachers and parents.

Why not, for a change, offer the money to schools to deliver what is possible and appropriate? They know what catching up is needed. At present, the rhetoric is full of the idea that because it has not been possible for the whole curriculum to be taught to everyone, it must follow that young people’s minds have been standing still. But children’s minds don’t freeze simply because they are getting less school time.

One aspect of school life that has had to be cut back is the mix of school visits to museums, theatres, concerts and field trips, alongside visits to schools from performers, musicians and specialists. As parents, we know the lift our children get from these. Why couldn’t you have produced some funding and guidance to help teachers access virtual equivalents to live visits? Just as the GCSE English curriculum has been pared down, you could have arranged for the whole curriculum to have been pared down, too, while indicating that there could and should be a space under lockdown for virtual visits.

I do not have a sense that there are well made plans in place for the next phase.

Yours, Michael Rosen

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Dear Gavin Williamson, pupils are not the only ones who need to ‘catch up’. You do, too | Education

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