The educational challenges for students when they return to school

Getting back to the classroom

(ASCL webinar, 2-6-20)

ASCL ran a webinar on 2nd June 2020, supported by Oxford University Press, a link to which is at the foot of this blog. It focused, in particular, on those children who may not be having a productive time at home and what we, as teachers, might do for them as they return to school. We also discussed the current and possible future contexts – both in terms of what we think is going on now for children, young people and teachers but also some of the thoughts that we’ve had what it’s going to look like when more children return to school.

As the schools have started to open up more widely we’ve started to see what some of the challenges are for us, some of the implications, some of the things we ought to rule in and some of the things that we ought to most definitely rule out.

Even back in normal times, we had an education system which was good for a lot of young people. The English education system is a good education system, but it is especially good if you come from certain backgrounds. We know that from last year’s report The Forgotten Third, essentially what it does is it fixates on those children who have been taught all through their early years, their primary and their secondary years, and they come out with a grade 3 or grade 2 or grade 1 in GCSE.

What is the significance of grade 3?

The significance of grade 3, of course, is that grade 4 is seen as a standard pass. So, what does that make a grade 3? And what indictment must it be on the system, which even in normal times thought it was appropriate or acceptable that you wrote a third of young people off by not saying that they could pass particularly on the basis of their national language or in mathematics? That’s something that we at ASCL are on a bit of a mission about because it is baked into the system by comparable outcomes, which you’ll know keeps grades largely sustained from one year to another.

Even though we’ve got a good education system, the tail of disadvantage has been very significant. In fact, one of the most trusted education lobby groups and think tanks, the Education Policy Institute reckoned that even back in the olden days if you were going to close the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged it was going to take 500 years at the rate we were narrowing the gap. And that was then when there were teachers in classrooms with children and young people.

Now we know the gap is getting wider and wider because the advantaged haven’t just got access to digital resources and all that stuff (which I think we actually over state). I think that is all useful but the more useful stuff is this: it’s being in a house which has got books. And by definition what that usually has with it is adults who have conversations with children. Whilst it’s easy to caricature all of that, you can see that what we are using that for is as a proxy for the kinds of circumstances which are going to help the word rich to get richer while the word poor get poorer. And that’s happening, on our watch, at the moment.

What it is going to look like when we bring children and young people in?

The ASCL view, which we’re taking from assessment experts, increasingly is that what children are going to need when they get back to school, first of all, is a sense of kindness. That somebody here is interested in stuff beyond their potential exam results. Somebody who is interested in them and their wellbeing and who reconnects them with human beings.

The person who has the expertise to be able to assess what a child has or hasn’t been learning, and what they need to do next, is their teacher. And that’s why we will be very cautious in welcoming the idea that you need a whole panoply of different people arriving in to rescue these children and possibly cluttering up their learning at a time when actually what they need is a decluttering.

What does the curriculum look like?

I think what is likely to happen is teachers deciding which parts of the curriculum are important, particularly so given that we have now got a truncated period. What we do with the children when they step back into our classrooms is essential and we need to have thought about it with a laser like focus. What does it mean for children in KS3? We’ll need to have a clearer sense of what is the foundation of KS3, ready for KS4, and then what for GCSE children next year for A Level? What will they need to help them to make up ground heading towards qualifications in the future? What will their exams looks like? And even if they are not immediately heading to qualifications, that sense of what the curriculum entitlement is going to be is really important.

The webinar focused in particular on what we’re going to do for the disadvantaged today. But we’re mindful of what we are preparing them for at some point in the future as well.

View the webinar here

View the webinar presentation here

Geoff Barton

General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders

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