Over the last week or so, we have seen increasing media speculation about what the government might, or might not, have in mind when it comes to their so-called ‘catch-up’ agenda. Rumours of extended school days and changes to the academic calendar have added to what is an already febrile atmosphere.
I think it is important to start by saying that at the moment there have been no concrete proposals put forward by the government. What we have seen is speculation, interview soundbites and half-baked ideas, often from people who really should know better.
While we have tried to avoid adding fuel to the fire, we have put out clear public statements to place on record our opposition to such short-term, unproven policy ideas.
For us it is clear, the evidence shows that extending the school day would likely have very little impact on pupils’ learning. Extending the summer term by a few weeks, while perhaps superficially attractive to some politicians, is equally flawed.
As I won’t need to tell you, there are many other arguments why such approaches would not work. Extending the length of the summer term would be a logistical nightmare, not least because parents and teachers alike will almost certainly have booked holidays that they hope to be able to enjoy with their families.
Both ideas immediately generate a range of further questions, including the contractual implications for teachers and school leaders, as well as the whole question around funding.
Then there is the equally important issue of the well-being and mental health of not just pupils, but also teachers and leaders who have worked tirelessly throughout the last twelve months. We know from our member surveys and from the conversations we have with our members that the levels of stress and exhaustion and stress amongst the profession are exceptionally high. Adding to the workload of already stretched school staff is simply not an option.
Top-down solutions dreamt up in Westminster are not what is needed here. Instead, the government needs to trust the experts. They need to trust you. Supporting pupils as they return to a sense of ‘normality’ is about so much more than quick academic fixes. It is a long-term project that focuses on supporting children socially and emotionally, as well as academically. Short-term academic ‘cramming’ or a race to ‘catch up’ will, at best be counter-productive, and at worst be potentially harmful.
As I suggested at the beginning of this email, we need to remember that currently, this all remains speculation. However, I want to reassure you that we are already being clear with the government about our views on this. As your representatives, we stand ready to work with the government on any proposals to support schools and pupils, but it must be in the context I have outlined above.
Our ongoing work with the government
Throughout the pandemic, we have tried to keep you updated as to our work with the government and the asks we are making of them on behalf of our members. However, as we have all seen, things move incredibly quickly and as such, it is not always easy to make sure our members are aware of all the things we are working on in the background.
To help give you a sense of our current work with the government, we have updated our website and produced a short booklet to summarise some of our key covid-19 policy positions and asks of the government. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and already new are issues emerging. However, we hope it gives you a sense of some of those important policy positions, and the areas we are currently working on. It is important to point out that the document is very much focused on the immediate, short-term issues. I want to reassure you that alongside this, work is also taking place around the medium and long-term issues, such as the future of assessment and accountability as we move into next year and beyond
First published 10 February 2021