Finola Wilson, a former teacher and director of Impact School Improvement, a Caerphilly-based education company shares her view on the return to school this week.
After many months of uncertainty, schools across the UK are reopening for the new term and pupils and their teachers are finally returning to the classroom.
And although coronavirus has not gone away, and parents are still rightly concerned for their children’s’ health and safety, ultimately that has to be seen as a good thing.
We know that being out of school for long periods is detrimental to young people, not only for their education, but also for their health and wellbeing – emotional, mental and physical.
This, coupled with the particular difficulties caused by the completely unprecedented circumstances of the last six months, means teachers will have their work cut out for them.
A survey of teachers in England by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) suggests pupils will be three months behind in their studies after lockdown, with boys and poorer pupils worst affected.
In fact, teachers think almost half of pupils (44%) will need intensive catch-up support.
With this in mind it’s imperative that teachers are now given the time and the space to get on with what they do best – teaching.
Teachers don’t need any new initiatives to implement – they’ve already had to get to grips with remote learning and covid-19 safety in the classroom – they don’t need the stress of political and media scrutiny, and most of all they don’t need to be bound by the curriculum, at least for the time being.
Here in Wales, the basic curriculum requirements and associated assessments were suspended in June to give schools the flexibility to focus on their pupils’ immediate educational and wellbeing needs, and at the time of writing that was still the case with the Welsh Government pledging to keep the situation under review.
In its Learning Guidance for the Autumn Term, the Welsh Government set out its priorities for learning.
It says pupils should have ‘broad and balanced’ learning experiences, and that learning should have a clear purpose, focused around what us important for learners now and in the longer term.
It says pupils should make ‘meaningful progress’, with the use of assessment encouraged to help them move to the next steps of their learning.
And it says learners should have opportunities to develop and apply literacy, numeracy and digital competence skills across the curriculum.
I think these priorities make absolute sense given the unique circumstances we are in.
After all, nobody knows what the next weeks or months will bring. We can’t say with any certainty if there will be a second wave of the virus, how serious it might be, or whether schools will remain open.
Therefore, it makes no sense for schools in Wales to return to a suspended curriculum, and especially when they are working towards a new one – Curriculum for Wales – which is due to be implemented from September 2022.
Now, more than ever, we need to put our trust in teachers. We must recognise their expertise, appreciate their knowledge and value their skills at being able to attend to their pupils’ educational and wellbeing needs.
Above all, we need to let them get on with the job of teaching.