2020 Autumn Term 2

The know zone

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    There have been innumerable challenges but could 2020 still turn out to be a transformational year in positive ways, wonders ASCL Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris. More
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  • Reconnecting
    How have children and young people settled back into school and college life and how are they coping with socialising in an era of social distancing? Here, ASCL members have their say More
  • Back to the future
    Headteacher Chris Hildrew is an advocate on ASCL Council for rural schools and single academies. Here, he takes us back to the future and shares his passion for teaching, Shakespeare, Taylor Swift and how Michael J. Fox inspired him to take up the guitar... and buy a skateboard. More
  • A different blend
    Students, their characters and their experiences are diverse. We shouldn't blame ourselves if they turn out to be something other than we had hoped or intended. More
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There have been innumerable challenges but could 2020 still turn out to be a transformational year in positive ways, wonders ASCL Primary Specialist Tiffnie Harris.

Children first

No sooner had summer term 2020 come to a close than the looming full return to school in September heralded fresh worries and anxieties among primary leaders. Yes, there was optimism, too: a new term, a fresh start, the joy of having children physically back in the classroom and a sense of having made it through the storm. 

But, as the autumn term progressed, the stop–start to teaching triggered by delays with testing put more stress on school leaders who had worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth start. Our primary leaders highlighted some key questions:

  1. How can we continue to cover staff absence?
  2. Does the government expect us to meet the growing costs?
  3. What is the government thinking on the timing and appropriateness of SATs in 2021?
  4. Will performance tables be published next year?
  5. What was the thinking behind the Ofsted autumn visits and when will full inspections resume?
  6. How can we meet the full expectations of remote education?

There is an over-arching fear that the continuing delays in testing, the impact of self-isolation, sickness and bereavement, coupled with increased difficulty in the recruitment of supply staff will have a severe longer-term impact on teaching and learning. The increased cost of cleaning and heating and a loss of lettings income only adds to the strain on primary school budgets. 

Government thinking on the timing and appropriateness of SATs in 2021, as well as the publication of primary performance tables, is still being questioned: how can primary schools be fairly compared next year when there will be so many inconsistencies in attendance and gaps in knowledge?

Autumn visits

When it was announced that Ofsted would be making autumn ‘visits’ and not inspections, it raised further questions about when full inspections would resume and what they would look like. 

Then, on 22 October, came the government curriculum legislation, compelling schools to give all children immediate access to remote education if they miss school because of the impact of the virus. Primary school leaders questioned the provision needed to make it a reality, the effect on disadvantaged families, how to manage parental expectations and the pressure on staff who are teaching full-time to simultaneously plan a curriculum that provides mastery and progress for pupils who are not in school. 

The arrival of the colder, wetter months and the need to keep children indoors more often, alongside the loss of school events including Nativities and similar celebrations, the challenges of cleaning equipment, stopping the use of Play-Doh and sand in early years and the loss of swimming lessons and singing has dampened spirits further.

Meanwhile, we had to prepare to implement the new relationships education curriculum (https://bit.ly/2FOg4nz), which must be taught from at least the start of the summer term 2021. 

Primaries also need to plan and prepare for the statutory roll out of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) reforms (https://bit.ly/2IIzX0f) from September 2021 and using the engagement model (https://bit.ly/3oatdIS) from the 2021/22 academic year. This is all alongside the roll-out of the statutory reception baseline assessment (https://bit.ly/2Tc24qP) from autumn 2021 (postponed from September 2020).

How can our most vulnerable primaries continue to deliver effective school improvement in a Covid environment? And where does all this leave staff wellbeing? Some of our primary leaders report that they are “feeling overwhelmed” while others have shared comments with us such as, “Everything is building up around me”, “I’m going to drown”, “I’m exhausted” and “I fear the shame of having to close down parts of the school”. 

But among what seems like never-ending negativity, there are definitely things to celebrate. Above all, the last few months have seen primaries, secondaries and local authorities working together far more than before, sharing, collaborating and supporting one another.

Dedication of staff

ASCL will continue to push the government for answers. However, the dedication of our primary school staff to supporting children, families and communities has never been more needed or more recognised. 

This year has not been consumed by accountability and progress measures but has instead been child-centred, with children at the heart of our decision making. We have put our children first and they are safely back in a classroom in front of a teacher.In these challenging times, there are opportunities for positive change that we all need to continue fighting for. Quite possibly, 2020 could be turning point for a fairer system (https://bit.ly/3ohpf1k)

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialis