Education insights: Schools look ahead tentatively to the New Year in an ever-uncertain climate

With term time coming to a close, Covid once again dominated this week’s education headlines as schools nationwide looked ahead to the New Year seeking answers related to what the return to school might look like.

Staggered return for England's secondary schools next term

What might the return to school look like in January 2021? Educators asking this question have since been met with the news that the return to secondary school in January will be staggered in England, with some pupils starting online. The move allows schools prepare for mass Covid testing which will offer school staff a test each week and a daily test for seven days for pupils in contact with a positive case. Secondary school pupils will study online for the first week back in January with the exception of those taking GCSEs, A-levels and vocational exams next year. Whilst a return to school across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remains unchanged until further notice, we will be keeping an eye on the extent to which the measures taken in schools in England are effective.

Covid-19 isolation 'detrimental for children'

Amanda Spielman, England’s chief inspector of schools, has said that isolation caused by Covid-19 is having a damaging effect on children’s education and well-being, with the most vulnerable being particularly effected. Spielman says periods of repeated isolation have "chipped away" at progress since September's return. Whilst remote learning is a worthwhile measure to ensure learning continues, we strongly believe that organisations must do what they can to help narrow the learning gap so that all children have the best start in life.

School exams ‘out of date’ in 21st century Scotland, say government advisers

The debate surrounding the format of assessments has long dominated education news, and this week saw the Scottish Government criticise traditional end-of-year school exams, regarding them as “essentially out of date” in the 21st century. According to its own advisors, the Scottish Government should consider phasing them out after the pandemic has subsided. Whilst the group said exams could still have a place in Scotland’s school system, they believe their importance should be reduced so they are “taken and retaken like driving tests” throughout the year. The recommendation was made by the International Council of Education Advisers, which was established four years ago to advise ministers on how best to shape their policies. With exams being cancelled amidst the pandemic, it will be interesting to note the extent to which education institutions take a step back and question whether high stakes end of year exams are the preferred route, or whether continuous tests over time may serve as a more effective form of assessment.

Top results at A-level drop in Autumn resits compared to summer

It was revealed this week that the proportion of top grades awarded to students in the Autumn A-level exams is overall lower than the summer centre assessed grades. Students who received grade A and above in the Autumn resits series in England was 29.7% compared to 38.1% in the summer. But this is still higher than the 2019 results where 25.2% of students received A or above. Ofqual confirmed in October that those retaking qualifications in autumn would receive the same level of leniency witnessed in the summer. If students didn’t perform as well as hoped this year irrespective of a resit, those taking their next steps must reflect on the fact that this has been a year like no other. Whether poorer grades will affect applications to work or university will remain to be seen. 

Children do not see themselves represented in the books they read

The National Literacy Trust have released a report citing that a third of children do not see themselves represented in the books they read and find it challenging to find characters who share similar characteristics or circumstances to them. Based on responses from more than 58,000 young people aged nine to 18 from 315 UK schools, 33% of the respondents said that they did not “see themselves” in what they read. Never before has representation in literature been more important to help children make sense of their own experiences, particularly around themes such as racism and gender identity, and perhaps more instances in literature in which these themes are explored may help inject interest back into reading for pleasure among this demographic.

About the author

Richard Brown

Richard's clients include Barclays, Shell, Vodafone and Kellogg's. Richard graduated from the University of St Andrews with a 2:1 MA Honours in English and Modern History. Having guided hundreds of young people through the National Citizen Service, Richard joined Hopscotch in 2018 to develop education programmes that bolster the skills of young people both inside and outside of the classroom.

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