Back to school #5

Here we are again, then. Let’s see how long it lasts this time.

Millions of children back to school in first step of ‘road map’Evening Standard
Although some scientists have raised concerns the increased levels of interaction could push the reproduction number – the R value – above 1, Mr Johnson said that more damage was being done to children by keeping them at home. He also said he believed pupils, parents and teachers were “ready” to go back, with more than 20,000 schools set to open their gates.

Jubilation and fear as English schools reopen amid continuing confusionThe Guardian
Headteachers earlier appealed to the government for greater clarity on masks to avoid conflict in school and ensure greater safety, but the children and families minister, Vicky Ford, maintained that while secondary students should be “strongly encouraged” to wear masks, their use was not mandatory.

School rapid test cannot be overruled, says ministerBBC News
It will mean a pupil who tests positive at home with a rapid on-the-spot test – known as a lateral flow test – will have to isolate on the basis of that test, but will be told to get a PCR test which is processed in a lab. If that PCR test is negative they will be released from isolation. But for those done in schools – pupils are being offered three tests in the next two weeks – it will be assumed the lateral flow test is right. A PCR test cannot overrule the lateral flow test.

Can you be fined for not sending your child to school?Gazette
Yes, the guidance states that it is now mandatory for all children and students in primary, secondary school and college from today. It means that when your school gives the go-ahead for your child to return, you have a “legal duty” to ensure this takes place unless your child has tested positive for Covid, or has to self-isolate.

When everyone else goes back, will we then be at the ‘new normal’?

What will it be like when we go back to the office?Reuters Graphics
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what will a pandemic sabbatical do to your feelings about the office? You may miss the way you set up your cubicle, recall fondly the water cooler conversations, or can’t wait to use the office printer again. But for as long as COVID-19 remains a threat, and possibly even after most people are vaccinated, office life will be very different from what it was before the global pandemic.

To understand what that might feel like, we spoke to some experts on work and workspaces who predicted that social distancing measures and hybrid work models are here to stay. Walk through our simulations below to experience what going back to the old/new office might be like.

Coronavirus guidance variants

One of the issues education providers have during this pandemic is keeping up with all the ever-changing guidance.

Higher education providers: coronavirus (COVID-19)GOV.UK
Information on the return of students from January 2021 and NHS Test and Trace channels. Updated ‘Students returning to, and starting higher education in spring term 2021’ with changes to when students can return to campus, updates on testing asymptomatic students and international students, and added information about Erasmus+.

Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreakGOV.UK
What all schools will need to do during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak from the start of the autumn term. Updated with latest changes to: system of controls, attendance, recruitment, free schools meals, estates, wraparound care, physical activity in schools, remote education, catch up, assessment and accountability, and exams.

Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Find out how apprenticeships will continue during the coronavirus (COVD-19) outbreak. Added a new version of ‘Providing apprenticeships during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak’ with updated information on face-to-face training and when to consider a break in an apprenticeship.

Protective measures for holiday or after-school clubs and other out-of-school settings for children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreakGOV.UK
Protective measures for providers of community activities, holiday or after-school clubs, tuition and other out-of-school settings offering provision to children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Updated the home education section with further information on vulnerable children who have difficulty engaging in remote education. Also added a section on Test and Trace Support Payments.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for children’s social care servicesGOV.UK
Advice about coronavirus (COVID-19) for local authorities and their partners to help support and protect vulnerable children. Updated sections on ‘Educational settings’ and ‘Alternative provision (AP) schools and providers’ within the main guidance document.

So, farewell then, Erasmus

My first post on this site about Brexit was in February 2016. I had found some articles from a university perspective, on why we should stay in the EU. Here we are, almost five years later, on the other side of all that, and the consequences for HE of our leaving are starting to show.

Britain mourns a cherished education exchange program ended by BrexitThe New York Times
Once able to study and work anywhere in the European Union without a visa, young Britons will now be treated like people from any other country outside the bloc when it comes to applying for educational programs — or jobs. The withdrawal is also a blow for Britain’s vaunted universities, a powerful symbol of its soft power in Europe and around the world, and an important source of income for the country.

But don’t worry though, the government has a cunning plan.

New Turing scheme to support thousands of students to study and work abroadGOV.UK
The programme will provide similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad as the Erasmus+ programme but it will include countries across the world and aims to deliver greater value for money to taxpayers. The UK will reap the rewards from the investment, by boosting students’ skills and prospects, benefitting UK employers, and supporting Global Britain’s ties with international partners.

Is that to be our brand name now, ‘Global Britain’? 🙄

And the Brexit trade agreement itself doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence, does it?

Brexit deal mentions Netscape browser and Mozilla MailBBC News
Experts believe officials must have copied and pasted chunks of text from old legislation into the document. The references are on page 921 of the trade deal, in a section on encryption technology. It also recommends using systems that are now vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The text cites “modern e-mail software packages including Outlook, Mozilla Mail as well as Netscape Communicator 4.x.” The latter two are now defunct – the last major release of Netscape Communicator was in 1997.

Is three weeks enough?

So there’s to be a three-week delay for ‘most’ GCSE and A-level exams in England next summer. The main set of exams will start on 7 June and run until 2 July, apart from the English and Maths GCSEs, which will be held before the May half-term. Here’s the press release from the government.

Cancelled exams and dodgy data

A couple of education news stories to keep an eye on. None of this seems to be getting easier.

Scottish Government confirms National 5 exams won’t take place in 2021 but Highers will go aheadDaily Record
Swinney continued: “In a normal exam year, National 5s constitute more than half of all exams taken. From a public health point of view, not running these exams significantly reduces risk. National 5 pupils will receive awards based on their coursework and the judgement of their teachers, with robust quality assurance. We have learned lessons from this year’s initial SQA gradings – there will be no algorithm for moderating grades in 2021.”

Scotland’s National 5 exams to be cancelled next yearThe Guardian
In England the Department for Education and Ofqual, the exam regulator, are adamant that GCSEs and A-level exams will go ahead in 2021. The education secretary in Westminster, Gavin Williamson, is expected to shortly announce a three-week delay in the exam timetable and other measures.

The DfE’s problems keep coming, it seems.

DfE broke the law on pupil data protectionTes
The audit found that the department has been in “direct breach” of data protection law, as there is “no clear picture” of what data it holds, and therefore “no Record of Processing Activity (ROPA) in place”. It also found that the DfE “cannot demonstrate accountability to the GDPR”, as there is “no formal proactive oversight of any function of information governance, including data protection, records management, risk management, data sharing and information security” within the department.

Department for Education’s handling of pupil data ruled illegalThe Guardian
Sam Grant, the policy and campaigns manager of Liberty, said: “This report displays a shocking failure of privacy protections, which is dangerous for our rights. The type of data collected by the DfE can reveal a huge amount of sensitive personal information about us, and often about children and young people. The government has routinely misused this data to enforce cruel and oppressive policies like the hostile environment. This cavalier attitude to our personal information puts people, including the most marginalised, at risk.”

Feeling uncertain? Certainly!

The latest news isn’t very promising.

About 40 universities report coronavirus casesBBC News
Health minister Helen Whately said “it must be really tough” for students, but they wanted outbreaks “under control”. Universities were working hard to be able to resume some face-to-face learning, the health minister said. But some students have questioned why they were told to leave home when most teaching is being done remotely.

Students ‘scared and confused’ as halls lock downBBC News
Up to 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University and hundreds at other institutions, including in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are self-isolating following Covid-19 outbreaks. In Manchester, students are being prevented from leaving by security.

It’s difficult dealing with all this uncertainty, but perhaps I just need to re-think things?

The value of uncertaintyAeon
Understanding our own relationship with uncertainty has never been more important, for we live in unusually challenging times. Climate change, COVID-19 and the new order of surveillance capitalism make it feel as if we are entering a new age of global volatility. Where once for many in the West there were just pockets of instability (deep unpredictability) in a sea of reliability – albeit sometimes in disagreeable structures and expectations – it lately seems as if there are just pockets of stability in a swirling sea of hard-to-master change.

Five rules for thinking about risk during the coronavirus pandemicWired UK
Navigating the constant risk assessment that life has now become is frustrating, but changing how we think about risk can make things easier. WIRED spoke to two experts in how humans perceive and respond to risk to figure out how adjusting our attitude to uncertainty can help us make better decisions

One certainty I’m still clinging to is that everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK yet, it just means we’re not yet at the end. I was happy to jump to the end of this roundup of expert opinion on how the next year may unravel unfurl.

The Road Ahead: Charting the coronavirus pandemic over the next 12 months — and beyondSTAT
Perhaps by the holidays in December 2021, life will feel safe enough that memories of the anxiety and fear of spring 2020 start to blur. After all, the typical final act of health emergencies is “global amnesia,” when people forget the lessons of what they just lived through.

But let’s return to the topic we started with.

“Online art school is not art school”: The future of creative higher education in the age of Covid-19It’s Nice That
Amid much controversy, institutions began digitising all interactions and creative output months ago as part of their emergency response to the global crisis. Aside from the exam results fiasco of last month, students and tutors alike have been told to embrace the “new normal” this coming term, even if their creative futures depend on it. We’ve seen an uproar from students around the world questioning how teachers are able to measure creativity through a screen. It begs the question: if online learning proves to be successful, what does that mean for the future of creative higher education?

Ed-tech mania is backThe Chronicle of Higher Education
[The] problem for today’s charismatic technologists is that the types of disruption they envisioned haven’t happened. MOOCs, adaptive tutors, chatbots, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, learning analytics, and other recent innovations have played very minor roles in higher ed’s crisis pivot to online learning. Instead, the pandemic has seen us embrace two dominant technologies. The first is the learning-management system — a place to distribute and collect resources online. Learning-management systems were theorized in the ‘60s and ‘70s, commercialized in the ‘90s, and made open source in the ‘00s. The other major technology we’ve embraced is similarly old school: it was called “videotelephony” when it debuted in the 1930s, and it has gradually morphed into today’s videoconferencing. Faculty members have simply turned from the classroom lectern to their home-office webcam without the assistance of chatbots or AI tutors.

Happy new (academic) year!

Yes, there’s a global pandemic, but that doesn’t stop the university league table business.

Oxford University takes top spot in Guardian’s annual university guideThe Guardian
This year’s Guardian university guide sees Oxford moving up from third to first, while the University of St Andrews stays in second place and Oxford’s ancient rival Cambridge drops to third after occupying the top spot for nine years.

There were a number of significant worries about what the start of this academic year might look like for university recruitment. But perhaps things will be OK.

The results comes as British universities are becoming cautiously optimistic that most have avoided the worst scenarios anticipated following the worldwide coronavirus outbreak and the exam grading turmoil that engulfed UK schools. Several institutions have said that student recruitment has held up across the board, with few domestic students opting to defer their studies, while international students numbers appear not to have fallen as feared.

There’s no shortage of advice out there, for universities …

Higher education: reopening buildings and campusesGOV.UK
This guidance is designed to help HE providers in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to provide services to students to ensure they can have an enjoyable experience, while staying as safe as possible. We recognise that providers have been working to prepare for safe reopening and this update is designed to support finalisation of these preparations and provide clarity on some issues raised by providers.

… as well as students.

‘Don’t buy grated cheese’: student cooking tips by top chefsThe Guardian
Cooking as a student can be tough because you often have a small kitchen. In our kitchen in student halls there were four burners on the hub. Two didn’t work and the others timed out after an hour for safety. You’re also sharing a fridge. So the key is to start simple.

Back to school #3

The start of a new term, one like no other.

Pupils return to school across England and Wales as Jeremy Hunt backs call for ‘rapid testing’ in classroomsLondon Evening Standard
[T]he former health secretary Jeremy Hunt backed a call from epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson for “rapid testing” to be introduced in schools, using a similar model to that used in Germany … “I think he is right, and the reason he is right is because we know something now we didn’t know back in January, which is that about 70 per cent of the people who transmit coronavirus don’t have any symptoms at all and so that makes it much harder to get public consent for things like sending people back to school or going back to offices and so on because it is a silent transmitter and even a silent killer sometimes. The way you get round that is by having very quick, very effective large-scale testing.”

Germany faces a ‘roller coaster’ as schools reopen amid coronavirusThe New York Times
Germany, like other countries that have managed the pandemic fairly well, was quick to deploy widespread testing, effective contact tracing and tests with rapid results. Crucially, that has helped keep the rate of community transmission low. So far, the lesson from Germany, Denmark and Norway, among the first countries to start the new school year, is that schools can reopen and remain open — if they build on that kind of foundation. But most countries, and most parts of the United States, simply can’t match those conditions.

This isn’t just a problem for schools, of course.

Fears over COVID-19 spread in universities as students set to make ‘UK’s biggest annual migration’Sky News
The start of a new university year is “the biggest migration of people on an annual basis in the UK,” Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, says. “That’s a million students, moving across country, cycling in and out of lockdown zones, of bubbles, of homes, into new cities, where we are not track and tracking those students, we are not testing those students,” she said. “We are seriously concerned that if the government and universities do not step in and discourage this… we could see universities becoming the care homes of the second wave of COVID-19.”

Fewer shots, more sanitiser: Manchester prepares for freshers week in the time of CovidThe Guardian
In university cities and towns across the country, students are set to encounter a transformed reality next month. The bustling student district of Fallowfield, which once had its raucous house parties debated in parliament, is one of many places that will have to trim its sails.

The area is home to Manchester University’s main accommodation block, and businesses are quietly gearing up for what is usually one of their busiest months, without quite knowing what the return of students will bring. Promoters would usually be dotted on street corners, attempting to lure twentysomethings with £1 shots. But now, when students arrive, they will be greeted by floor markings, hand sanitiser, and signs reminding them to keep socially distanced.

But maybe everything will be OK?

Why heading back to school isn’t as big a risk as it soundsWired UK
“What’s happened between June and now, is that we now know that young children, so those under ten, have negligible risk from the virus and don’t appear to be transmitting it much either,” says David Strain, clinical senior lecturer and honorary consultant at University of Exeter Medical School. “In June, we knew that the children could catch the virus, and they had no disease. But we didn’t know, at that point, whether they could then take that virus home and spread it on to their parents and grandparents.” One worry is that children will spread the virus to vulnerable members of their household – an elderly relative or shielder. But, luckily, children aren’t as contagious as adults. […]

What is clear is that children staying out of school is hugely damaging – not just in regards to the loss of education, but whether the children come from vulnerable settings, are neglected at home, or at risk of domestic violence. Schools provide a refuge for these children. “We’ve seen an entire generation lose six months worth of education – for some this is their formative years,” says Strain. “This is further driving health and educational inequalities.”

Time for a ‘Nightingale moment’ for England’s children, says watchdogThe Guardian
Invoking the gargantuan effort taken to build Nightingale hospitals for thousands of Covid patients in a matter of weeks, and the £35bn furlough scheme to save jobs, Anne Longfield said children’s recovery from missing months of school would take up to a year and would have a profound psychological impact. […]

“The government needs to be bold, and on the sort of scale that saw hospitals built in weeks, and workers paid in furlough, to make sure no child is left behind. If not, they risk losing a generation for good. The stakes are simply that high,” she said.

Any lessons from history?

Schools beat earlier plagues with outdoor classes. We should, tooThe New York Times
The subsequent New England winter was especially unforgiving, but children stayed warm in wearable blankets known as “Eskimo sitting bags” and with heated soapstones placed at their feet. The experiment was a success by nearly every measure — none of the children got sick. Within two years there were 65 open-air schools around the country either set up along the lines of the Providence model or simply held outside. In New York, the private school Horace Mann conducted classes on the roof; another school in the city took shape on an abandoned ferry.

Distressingly, little of this sort of ingenuity has greeted the effort to reopen schools amid the current public-health crisis.

A classroom on a ferry in New York City, circa 1915.

If schools do have to close again, we’ll be better prepared next time, right?

Coronavirus: how can teachers prepare better for remote learning?Tes
The principle of generative learning is that there are activities that we can ask pupils to do in which they create new learning for themselves. All these activities involve pupils taking new information from a source – such as teacher explanation, a written text, video clip etc – and then going through the process of: selecting relevant information; organising it; integrating it into their prior knowledge.

There’s a mountain to climb, even without any further closures.

Pupils three months behind as new term starts, study claimsSchools Week
The research has prompted warnings that catch-up must not be seen as a “quick-turnaround solution”, with schools facing a “range of barriers” as they reopen. The survey also found that almost half of pupils need “intensive catch-up support”, with those from the most deprived schools and institutions with the highest proportion of pupils from BAME backgrounds “in greatest need”.

Next year’s exam season will be rolling around before you know it.

GCSEs and A-levels: Decision on exam delay promised ‘very soon’BBC News
This is expected to be part of a wider strategy on how next summer’s exams will operate when so much school has been missed because of the pandemic.

3 ways to avoid repeating the exam grade fiascoTes
Teachers are calling for reduced exam content and a new national system for moderating grades to avoid a repeat of this year’s exam grade controversy.

Perhaps some people need to go back to school more than others.

Ofqual chief Sally Collier steps down after exams chaosBBC News
“This move follows the failure of the statistical model that led to this year’s grading fiasco, but the fault is not hers alone,” said the head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton. “Ministers have questions to answer over the extent to which they scrutinised and challenged the methodology and reliability of the statistical model, particularly given the enormity of the task and the importance of getting it right.”

Everything that went wrong with the botched A-Levels algorithmWired UK
“This whole story has really highlighted the problems that there are around automated decision making, in particular when it’s deployed by the public sector,” says Tennison. “This has hit the headlines, because it affects so many people across the country, and it affects people who have a voice. There’s other automated decision making that goes on all the time, around benefits, for example, that affect lots of people who don’t have this strong voice.”

Can algorithms ever make the grade?Ada Lovelace Institute
Hindsight delivers 20:20 vision, as we know. But Ofqual should have been aware that it was deploying an algorithm against a backdrop of existing public scepticism towards algorithmic systems, and an environment of tenuous trust in Government data use. It needed not only to meet, but to exceed existing standards for transparency and accountability, to avoid doing indelible harm to public confidence in data-driven decision making. […]

It would be easy to blame Ofqual here, but the choice of goals – in algorithms as in policy more broadly – is a political question, not just a technical one. Professor Jo-Anne Baird, a member of Ofqual’s Standing Advisory Group, has publicly stated that Ofqual was specifically directed to deliver exam results that controlled grade inflation, and within those parameters, this algorithm is the best you can get. So why did the public have to wait until results day in August to find out that this was the goal?

The lessons we all must learn from the A-levels algorithm debacleWired UK
The statistical problems within the algorithm – such as the ability to only award a certain number of each grade per school – could have been spotted before it was deployed. But external expert advice was ignored months before results day. Members of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) offered to help Ofqual in April, but faced five-year non-disclosure agreements if they wanted to be involved in the project. The RSS experts said they believed some of the issues with the algorithm could have been avoided if independent expert advice was taken.

How might Ofqual have avoided this turmoil?HEPI
Ofqual were set a nearly impossible task: Provide students with the grades that they would most likely have achieved had they sat their exams, while maintaining overall national standards for prior years, and protecting groups from being systematically advantaged or disadvantaged. The methodology arguably failed on all three aims. The situation we’re left with is in many ways worse. But could this all have been avoided had the methodology been better designed and communicated?

Ironic really, the DfE’s failure to learn lessons

School exams and Covid: what could the UK have learned from EU?The Guardian
The French education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, announced in April that the country’s 740,000 final-year students would be awarded an average grade for each subject based on coursework and tests during the first two terms. Local juries assessed and – if necessary – adjusted students’ grades according to national averages and on schools’ past examination records. The pass rate for the 2020 bac was over 95%, more than seven percentage points higher than the previous year, forcing the government last month to create about 10,000 extra university places for September in the most popular subject areas.

Update 17/08/2020

So it seems lessons can be learnt.

A-level and GCSE results in England to be based on teacher assessments in U-turnThe Guardian
The climbdown comes after days of turmoil triggered by the publication of A-level results last Thursday, when almost 40% of predicted results were downgraded, with some students marked down two or even three grades, which resulted in many losing university places.

Update 20/08/2020

What could possibly go wrong?

Students get ‘bizarre’ rises from moderated gradesTes
A headteacher of a West Yorkshire school said that, in one case, a pupil forecast a grade 1 in a subject had been given an 8 after the Ofqual moderating process. He also had 12 students in the same subject where final grades were four grades higher than the centre assessed grades produced by the school.

An anxious wait

It’s A-level results day tomorrow. Now would not be a good time to introduce any last minute changes to the process, you would think, especially given that universities have already had the results since last Friday and have completed many of their admissions decisions. But this government has a reputation to uphold.

Triple lock for students ahead of A level and GCSE resultsGOV.UK
Students could accept their calculated grade, appeal to receive a valid mock result, or sit autumn exams to ensure the achievements of young people are recognised. Ofqual has been asked to determine how and when valid mock results can be used to calculate grades.

That’s no easy question for Ofqual to answer, given how varied the mock exam process can be across our schools.

Replacement A-level grades ‘no lower than mock exams’BBC News
But head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton was highly critical of this late change – and said the marking of mock exams was not consistent enough between schools to be used to decide A-level results. “The idea of introducing at the eleventh hour a system in which mock exam results trump calculated grades beggars belief,” said the leader of the ASCL heads teachers’ union. “The government doesn’t appear to understand how mock exams work. They aren’t a set of exams which all conform to the same standards. The clue is in the name ‘mock’,” said Mr Barton.

Something is needed, though. I can only imagine how much anguish for the students and extra work for the schools this is going to create.

A-level grade appeals in England will benefit only ‘small group’, says ministerThe Guardian
“Most people can rely on this standardisation model in delivering the right result,” said Gibb, stressing that without the computer-aided moderation, there would have been grade inflation of 12%. … He also confirmed that, as the Guardian reported last week, 40% of grades have been downgraded by the standardisation model.

Back to school #2

Schools are going to look very different this September.

Exclusive: What schools will be told to do in September so all pupils can returnHuffPost UK
Education secretary Gavin Williamson is set to announce the full plans to parliament on Thursday, but HuffPost UK has been told the detailed guidance for headteachers will include: […]

Some subjects for some or all pupils may have to be suspended for two terms to allow catch-up on core subjects such as English and maths, with a full spread of subjects returning in the summer term of of 2021

Some pupils may have to drop some GSCEs altogether in Year 11 to allow them to catch up and achieve better grades in English and maths. GCSEs and A-levels to take place as planned next summer but with some “adaptations”

Amongst the many school activities being cancelled this year are the tours and transition events for new secondary school students over the summer. But here’s an interesting way of welcoming them and showing them around.

Take on the Co-op Manchester Minecraft Challenge!Co-op Academy Manchester
Welcome to our academy in the wonderful world of Minecraft! Here are some things that you might like to do. You might just want to explore for fun – but you could use it to start to find your way around the academy.

Preview: Co-op Academy Manchester on Minecraft – CoopManchester

Update 03/07/2020

For info, here’s the government’s press release about the new measures.

Schools and colleges to reopen in full in SeptemberGOV.UK
Detailed plans have been unveiled for all children and young people to return to full-time education from September.

Teaching, technically speaking

Schools are now thinking about reopening, after being mostly shut since March and cancelling this summer’s GCSE and A-Level exams. As you would imagine, this is far from straightforward.

How will schools be able to reopen?BBC News
In England, ministers say schools should prepare to begin to open for more pupils from 1 June. This would be for those in nursery and pre-school, Reception and Years 1 and 6 at primary school. At secondary school and college, Years 10 and 12 would return first. Only a tiny fraction of the regular school population are likely to attend. Schools in Wales will not reopen on 1 June, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland may not restart before the summer holidays.

Many teaching unions and councils, including my own, have major reservations.

Ministers under pressure over schools return dateBBC News
The decision to begin reopening schools came after the reproduction, or R number – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to, on average – came down across every part of the UK. But multiple research groups, including those at the University of Cambridge, show it varies across the country – it has come down most in London but is higher in the north-east of England.

Leeds City Council statement on re-opening primary schoolsLeeds.gov.uk
Due to a variety of factors, it would be impossible for all schools to operate to the Government’s timetable of opening Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1. While some schools will begin to gradually expand their intake from this date, Leeds will not expect all our schools to open to all those pupils from day one.

Only time will tell if this is the right step to take. Italy, which closed its schools at the end of February, initially for just a week, isn’t expecting them to reopen until mid-September, if not later. Teachers, parents and children alike have had mountains to climb, and they’ve still got perhaps four more months to go.

Italian lessons: what we’ve learned from two months of home schoolingThe Guardian
The Digital Economy and Society Index rates Italy 24 out of 28 European countries in its “digitalisation index”, and last year Italy’s national statistics agency, Istat, reported that 23.9% of Italian families have no access to the internet. As one teacher said to me: “We’ve discovered how democratic pencil-and-paper is.” The attempt by many teachers to get less-privileged students the necessary laptops and internet connections is one of the untold stories of this crisis. By 19 March, the ministry of education claimed to have distributed 46,152 tablets throughout the country. Since then, an emergency budget has created a €70m fund for providing computers to those without. Even if the necessary hardware is distributed, one special educational needs teacher told me that online classes just don’t work for children who need bespoke lessons: “Those who are already doing well at school are now doing even better, but those who were struggling are just falling further behind.”

They aren’t the only ones. Here’s the view from China.

The coronavirus exposes education’s digital divideThe New York Times
Students in some places have hiked for hours and braved the cold to listen to online classes on mountaintops, the only places they can get a decent cell signal, according to Chinese news reports. One high schooler in Sichuan Province was found doing homework under a rocky outcropping. Two little girls in Hubei Province set up a makeshift classroom on a wooded hillside.

For children of the millions of migrant laborers who work far from home to keep China’s cities cleaned and fed, another problem is a lack of supervision. These “left-behind children,” as they are called in China, are raised mostly by their grandparents, who are often illiterate and cannot help with homework even when it is not delivered via smartphone app.

I don’t think our position is that much better.

Outdated IT systems pushed to the limit by large-scale remote working, say schoolsThe Independent
Technology in many schools is like the “dark ages” compared with other sectors, the headteachers’ union warned. … One headteacher is desperately trying to raise funds as he says funding cuts have left the school without the cash to carry out critical IT upgrades needed to run a “virtual school” for 1,200 pupils.

Some central support has been made available, from the big players…

UK schools will get tech support from Google and MicrosoftComputer Weekly
The government has also written to organisations overseeing schools and children’s social care, such as local authorities and trusts, to advise them how they can order devices as part of its £100m investment to provide internet access and computers to disadvantaged children.

… as well as from some lesser-known software companies and training providers.

UK education providers are helping teachers, parents and students respond to the impact of COVID-19 worldwideGOV.UK
Century Tech creates personalised learning pathways for students and powerful data for teachers to ensure that every child gets tailored, high quality education. They are offering free maths, English and science resources here.

Personalised learning pathways sounds a little dry. How could we jazz up what Century Tech are offering? What buzzword comes to mind?

‘AI teachers’ to be offered to British students off school due to coronavirusThe Telegraph
“AI teachers” will be offered to every student in the UK that is forced to miss school due to the coronavirus, it has been announced. … Like a human teacher, the virtual tutor tracks how a student learns, adapts to their strengths and weaknesses and constantly adjusts lesson plans.

The educational impact of this pandemic is not restricted to just schools, of course.

Breaking: All University lectures to be online-only in 2020-21Varsity
A leaked email seen by Varsity outlines plans for all lectures in the 2020-21 academic year to be conducted virtually. Head of Education Services, Alice Benton wrote to Senior Tutors today (19/05) to inform them that the ‘General Board’s Education Committee’ has ‘agreed that, since it is highly likely that rigid social distancing will be required throughout the next academic year, there will be no face-to-face lectures next year.’

University of Cambridge shifts lectures online for 2020/2021 academic yearCambridge Independent
The University told the Cambridge Independent: “The University is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic. Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the University has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”

Online lectures ‘likely’ to continue at Edinburgh Uni for ‘some time to come’, VC warnsThe Tab
In an interview on Radio 4 Today, Peter Mathieson said having “hundreds of students packed into in lecture theatres” would probably not be “safe or possible” when asked about Cambridge University’s recent decision to move all lectures online until Summer 2021. … “We haven’t talked about a fully online model,” he said. “Lectures may be online and we were doing that anyway – we’re very good at that, but actually small-group teaching will continue.”

That’s just as well. As we saw above with schools, moving online is not without its challenges.

Universities beware: shifting classes online so quickly is a double-edged swordThe Guardian
But can this rapid shift to online teaching and learning actually work in the long term? Several problems have already emerged. Online teaching needs more than just the basics. Lecturers need access to a computer that supports teaching software and a reliable internet connection. Meanwhile, for students, even basic hardware and software are far from guaranteed in many homes, as families share equipment and internet providers struggle with increased traffic.

Frustrated, nervous, disconnected

A thought-provoking article from Wired on the toll all this might be taking on our teenagers.

The reality of Covid-19 is hitting teens especially hardWired
Everyone has had to abruptly adapt to “the new normal,” and my initial thought was that kids would take it all in stride. My daughter spends the vast majority of her free time in her room, on her bed, staring at her phone. Would shelter-in-place be any different, aside from not going to school for a few hours a day?

It is, and the impact on Zoe has been profound. She was devastated by the news, and she recently—after more than two weeks into stay-at-home restrictions—spoke to me about the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the experience. “I’m trying to deal with the fact that my high school career is over,” she says. “Losing track and field, prom, and graduation sucks. And there’s no way to cope with it because I’m just never going to get to do those things. It feels like the last four years of hard work have been for nothing.”

It’s not just teenagers, of course, but our younger children and ourselves that are struggling with all this.

The parents are not all rightGEN
We both felt guilty for the work we were not doing — and aching for the way our son was struggling and needed us to be present and calm. But that’s exactly what our current schedule prohibits, as we run back and forth between work calls, requests, and parenting. (Later, as I took over the homeschool shift and he stormed upstairs to cry, he told me it was because I had stopped smiling at him. Knife, meet heart.) […]

This current situation is almost prophetically designed to showcase the farce of our societal approach to separating work and family lives. We are expected to work from home full time. And care for our children full time. And we cannot have anyone outside our immediate household help. It can’t work and we all are suffering at the illusion that it does.

Getting the students in order

Ofqual have set out how GCSEs and A levels will be awarded this summer, following the cancellation of this year’s exams. It’s not just about the students’ mock exam results, but nor is it just a grade they’re after.

How GCSEs, AS & A levels will be awarded in summer 2020GOV.UK
Exam boards will be contacting schools, colleges and other exam centres after Easter asking them to submit, by a deadline that will be no earlier than 29 May 2020, the following:

  • a centre assessment grade for every student in each of their subjects: that is, the grade they would be most likely to have achieved if they had sat their exams and completed any non-exam assessment. Judgements should balance different sources of evidence such as: classwork; bookwork; any participation in performances in subjects such as music, drama or PE; any non-exam assessment […]
  • the rank order of students within each grade for each subject – for example, for all those students with a centre assessment grade of 5 in GCSE maths, a rank order where 1 is the most secure/highest attaining student, and so on. This information will be used in the statistical standardisation of centres’ judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across all schools and colleges

That last point could be a non-trivial matter, to say the least, though you can see why they’re asking for it.

Coronavirus: Schools will rank GCSE and A-level pupils within gradesSchools Week
The rank order will help determine which pupils move between grades during the standardisation process, which will be run by the exam boards in order to ensure that pupils are not disadvantaged by generous or severe assessment.

But what about the other qualifications?

Exam regulator unveils GCSE and A-level plans for coronavirus crisisThe Guardian
The new system will affect around 1.5 million pupils studying for this year’s GCSEs, A-levels and AS-levels in England, as well as many in Wales. Details are still unclear for those taking BTec and vocational or technical qualifications at schools and colleges.

More to follow, then.

Trusting the teachers

The schools are closed and GCSEs and A-Levels are to be replaced with teacher assessments (partly). That might not sound very robust, but this research from 2019 (how timely!) suggests otherwise.

Don’t worry about cancelled exams – research shows we should switch to teacher assessment permanently – The Conversation
Teacher assessments during compulsory education are as reliable and stable as standardised exam scores. We can – and should – trust teacher assessments as indicators of pupils’ achievement. This advice is based on a study carried out with a UK-representative sample of more than 10,000 children. We hope that our findings will alleviate some of the concerns of the pupils and parents affected by the exam cancellation. […]

Might the “high financial, pedagogical and psychological costs of standardised exams” suggest that this is another area that’s permanently changed, once things go back to normal?

For these reasons, our results suggest that substituting high-stakes exams for teacher assessments might be a good thing, not just during the current Covid-19 crisis, but on a permanent basis.

We call for you to trust teachers during these difficult times. We should do whatever we can to bring joy back to the classroom – or, as it is now, the virtual classroom. We must trust our teachers to teach the curriculum and to assess students’ progress and abilities. The wellbeing of students, their parents and their teachers would benefit from it.