Many teachers and school leaders are furious with the government’s latest plans to extend school opening times once schools reopen for all pupils, and potentially teach into the first two weeks of the summer holidays.
The Government has appointed ‘catch-up commissioner’ Sir Kevan Collins, to look at ways to help children catch up after all the disruption to schooling over the past 12 months.
Sir Kevan told the BBC news that the government was “going to have to ask teachers to increase learning time for children”, with additional hours of academic learning, as well as sport, music and drama needed to help England’s children to catch-up following the pandemic. He has also suggested that summer schools may be required.
This has caused a stir among many teachers and school leaders, who feel pupils, teachers and leaders are under enough pressure as it is in the crisis and the rhetoric of ‘catch-up’ is adding to the pressures children are already under.
Former headteacher Leon Hady, who provides teacher training courses and works directly with hundreds of headteachers after founding E-learning platform Guide Education does not feel the new catch up tsar’s approach is the right one.
He said: “Personally I think it’s a terrible idea based on the assumption that time in class equals time spent learning, as this really isn’t the case. If more time spent at school equals a higher pass rate then we wouldn’t have such low overall national grades.
“The way the whole school system is effectively means you’re just giving the child more time with a teacher and trying to put pressure on teachers and students to get into a building and extending the school day, or across holidays et cetera, but this doesn’t necessarily equate to better exam results.”
Leon believes that it would be better to adapt the SATs and GCSE examinations slightly, and do an assessment of what children have actually missed, before making decisions, rather than going “into full catch-up mode”.
He added: “I think changes need to happen for the next two year to take the pressure off teachers and students and that [could be done] by merely adapting the exams. Ultimately the only barometer which tells us what we’ve lost is the exam results, so if we adapt, make tweaks and push back a year later we would be in a better position.”
Sarah, a middle leader and secondary school teacher from South London agreed that longer school hours and teaching and learning into the summer holidays would add further stress to both pupils and teachers.
She shared that many teachers feel the autumn term of 2020 was the hardest term of their teaching careers, with teachers working “non-stop throughout the pandemic”, adapting to a completely new way of teaching.
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“Changes have been weekly or even daily,” she added. “Teachers have been expected to adapt fast, as well as continue teaching to the highest level.
“The pandemic has also highlighted the huge responsibility teachers and schools have to provide a social service for children. Doing home visits, providing daily food parcels, daily phone calls and providing social and emotional service for many pupils during this hard time.
“The catch-up strategy is not the right strategy, and catch-up to where? I’m not sure who they are catching up to – [are they catching up] to produce data to help create a society based on neo-liberal data driven competition and league tables?
“Or to catch-up so children are able to actually come to terms with the continued change over the last year, which consequently will have hindered the key years of some of their social development.
“If anything the issues have emphasised the vast inequalities between pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds and this is where policy needs to be focused in the future of education discourse.”
Sarah doesn’t see how keeping schools open longer is a positive for either pupil or teacher, as children and teachers alike are already tired and overwhelmed by so many changes this year.
She continued: “By keeping schools open longer, children will be tired and learning will be, if anything, hindered by this. Pupils and staff are already incredibly tired by the end of the school day and the end of term.
“Life has literally stopped and I think if anything pupils and staff will therefore be more tired going back into normal school days, never-mind longer.”
Sarah shared that tired pupils and staff are a disaster for learning. She feels the priority should be getting pupils and staff used to being back in the classroom rather than extending this, especially due to significant anxieties many staff and pupils face around going back to school.
She feels when all pupils return to school, a focus on socialising and prioritising pupil’s wellbeing should be the priority. “Children are spending too much time not interacting face to face and this pandemic will have increased social anxieties that are already there. Pupils are struggling at home with a lack of social interaction, not a lack of education (which has continued throughout). The priorities need to be social and wellbeing, not more added exam pressure.”
Reaction online reflected Sarah and Leon’s views, with both parents and teachers expressing their focus was on children instead ‘catching up’ with socialising and having opportunities to swim, play, see family and have experiences such as going on holiday.
Others also stressed that children cannot be expected to concentrate for any longer than they already struggle to, particularly as the pandemic has seen teachers report a decrease in children’s stamina.
Many teachers shared their frustration in a post on Instagram from Simple Politics, which announced the solutions the government is currently considering. One teacher shared that she could not emphasise enough that teachers are all at breaking point already due to the stress of the year, with plans to open schools later and into the holidays adding to these pressures.
She suggested the catch-up fund would be better allocated in additional staffing in schools, so that children can have their usual lessons with more individual attention, with pupils likely as stressed and exhausted as the teachers.
Another added: “Number 4 should be the only option and stop obsessing over ‘lost learning’ – the only thing that has been lost is rote learning for exams and assessments.
“This should be a wake up call to completely overhaul education in the UK, learning is lifelong and school should set children up for just that, not drum in facts that are only good for exams and forgotten shortly after. Speaking as a teacher.”
Another teacher simply said: “I will not be ruining my summer as a response to our governments poor handling,” which was liked 95 times.
Do you think it is a good idea to open schools for longer days once they return, and keep them open into the school holidays? Let us know in the comment section here.
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