Quick link at September 02, 2020 at 10:03AM

The fallout from the exams fiasco continues, with reports that Williamson was warned weeks before results day that the algorithm was flawed and unfair. He’s previously said that he was only aware of “real concerns” after the results were published. But perhaps the system was always broken.

Quick link at September 02, 2020 at 09:46AM

The New York Times have compiled photos of students around the world returning to classrooms this week. Poignant attempts to get back to normal in a world where the virus has, in only eight months or so, infected over 25,000,000 people and killed more than 850,000.

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?

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.

Back in the office yet?

So lockdown’s easing here next week.

What’s reopening on June 15? All of the lockdown restrictions easing on MondayLondon Evening Standard
All non-essential retail shops will be able to reopen from Monday, provided they follow Government guidelines to make them “Covid-secure”, Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed last night. Mr Sharma said the move will “allow high streets up and down the country to spring back to life”. These include clothes and shoe shops, book shops, electronics retailers, tailors, auction houses, photography studios, indoor markets, and shops selling toys.

Things might start to feel a little more normal for some, but for others less so.

Ten Lincolnshire schools report COVID-19 infections since reopeningThe Lincolnite
Years One, Six and Reception classes returned to the classroom last Monday. Since then Lincolnshire County Council said two school staff have been confirmed positive, while two results have come back negative and eight are still waiting.

Plan shelved for all primary pupils to be back in school before summer holidaysSky News
[T]he National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that if the plans were confirmed, it would be “pleased to see the government will not force the impossible”. The body previously said returning all pupils before the end of term would present “unsolvable practical barriers if the hierarchies of control are to be maintained”.

It’s a difficult balancing act, with different parts of the country experiencing different transmission rates.

The UK may need local lockdowns. But can it make them work?Wired UK
Explaining to the public what scientific evidence local rules are based on will be key. “Under local lockdowns it seems very likely that people who live not very far from each other will end up receiving very different policing responses. So it will be important that those most affected understand the basis of those decisions, else they may feel they’re being unreasonably or unfairly dealt with,” says Stuart Lister, professor of policing and criminal justice at University of Leeds.

No change for me next week, though. I’ll still be working from home, logging in from the kitchen table with its view of our little garden and bird feeders. I could get quite used to this.

Remote work’s time has comeCity Journal
[I]t’s important to bear in mind that the pivot to remote work due to Covid-19 is being made under extraordinary conditions, rushed and relatively unplanned. Many will be attempting to work remotely while simultaneously providing child care and dealing with other pandemic-related exigencies. … The sudden expansion of remote work will feel especially socially isolating, since it is occurring amid general social distancing. In short, this is the worst version of modern remote work. It will get better.

Let’s hope so. The question we’re all asking is, when will all this go back to normal, whatever that new normal ends up being?

When 511 epidemiologists expect to fly, hug and do 18 other everyday activities againThe New York Times
Many epidemiologists are already comfortable going to the doctor, socializing with small groups outside or bringing in mail, despite the coronavirus. But unless there’s an effective vaccine or treatment first, it will be more than a year before many say they will be willing to go to concerts, sporting events or religious services. And some may never greet people with hugs or handshakes again.

When will life return to normal? This is the answer of epidemiologists, as embroidered by one of them, Melissa Sharp. Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

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.

School’s out, for summer?

So yesterday, two weeks before the scheduled end of the term, kids across the country had their last school day. An early end to the term. An end to the school year?

Coronavirus: how to help children through isolation and lockdown The Conversation
The UK has become the latest country to close schools in a bid to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. This is a game changer for families, displacing children from friends, learning and their school community. To help them through what could be months of isolation and potentially lockdown, we need to consider how this new world looks and feels to them. […]

Questions about limiting screen time are a little moot, now.

Accept that they will also need to talk with friends and process what is happening around them, so tune into the value of the technology they are glued to, and actively encourage face time and group chats. It is best to talk with teenagers as the near-adults they are, emphasising the positives – the experts are working round the clock.

But what about GCSE and A-levels?

Fears that cancelling exams will hit BAME and poor pupils worstThe Guardian
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, will give more details about what will replace exams on Friday, but it is likely that GCSE and A-level results will be awarded based on predicted grades. He promised an appeal process for pupils who are unhappy with the results they are given, to ensure that the system is as fair as possible. Experts warned that the changes would disadvantage black and minority ethnic, working-class and other marginalised students, who are already under-represented in top universities.

Mock results and predicted grades won’t be used in isolation, though.

Coronavirus: Teacher assessments for GCSEs and A levelsTes
“Ofqual will develop and set out a process that will provide a calculated grade to each student which reflects their performance as fairly as possible, and will work with the exam boards to ensure this is consistently applied for all students,” the Department for Education said in a statement.

The DfE have some FAQs, with more detail.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): cancellation of GCSEs, AS and A levels in 2020GOV.UK
3. How will you address the fact that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have their grades under-predicted?
We are not awarding students their predicted grades. Ofqual, the independent qualifications regulator, will develop a fair and robust process that takes into account a broad range of evidence, including teacher assessment and prior attainment. Ofqual will make every effort to ensure that the process agreed does not disadvantage any particular group of students.

Pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their performance will have the opportunity to sit an exam, as soon as is reasonably possible after schools and colleges open again.

4. Will all students get their predicted grade?
No, we know that simply using predicted grades would not be fair to all students. The calculated grade will take into account teachers’ assessment of the likely grade as well as other factors such as prior attainment, so students’ final grades will not necessarily reflect their predicted grades.

One of our kids is expecting to start university this September…

18. What will young people with university offers do?
The grades awarded to students will have equal validity to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities, colleges and employers. There is no reason for the usual admissions cycle to be disrupted.

We welcome the constructive approach taken by the main university representative body, Universities UK, who have said that universities will be flexible and do all they can to support students and ensure they can progress to university.

We can only wait and see.

Tackling poor behaviour in schools

A press release from the DfE today.

Experts to help tackle poor behaviour in schoolsGOV.UK
Schools with exemplary behaviour practices are being invited to lead the Government’s £10 million programme to improve discipline, as part of work to raise school standards across the country. Supported by renowned behaviour experts, these schools will work in partnership with those that need help to turn around their behaviour culture, equipping heads and senior leaders with the tools they need to tackle poor discipline.

Education Secretary: We’re going on a discipline drive in schoolsGOV.UK
We plan to build partnerships between schools which are leading on this issue with those who want to turn their own cultures around, allowing institutions with poor behaviour to learn from those with the best. They’ll be led by former teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett, along with a team of current and former headteachers with broad experience of creating disciplined environments in their own schools

So who are these experts?

Revealed: The experts leading £10m behaviour programeTes News
The seven-strong team will work alongside headteachers and leaders from 20 outstanding schools in order to improve behaviour in around 500 schools which are struggling with poor behaviour. The group is being led by the DfE’s behaviour tsar Tom Bennett, who is the founder of ResearchED, an international conference of teachers that aims to boost knowledge of current research among the profession.

DfE reveals Tom Bennett’s new behaviour taskforceSchools Week
Bennett, the DfE’s lead behaviour adviser, said: “There are some incredible schools out there making miracles happen every day, but many schools who, often through no fault of their own, face huge challenges getting there. Behaviour hubs will support these schools with the schools who know how to turn things around.”

Exclusive: DfE behaviour expert ran unlawful exclusionsTes News
Mark Emmerson, chief executive of the City of London Academies Trust, was in charge of The City Academy in Hackney in 2016, when pupils were voluntarily “withdrawn” by parents – without these absences being recorded as fixed-term exclusions.

Let’s hope they succeed. It’s an emotive topic for sure, but only an idiot would imagine there are any simple fixes or easy answers here.

Ban phones and queue in silence for better GCSEs, says Gavin WilliamsonThe Telegraph
Gavin Williamson has urged schools to implement stringent discipline regimes, such as lining up in silence before lessons. He said that often “common-sense solutions” can be used to curb unruly behaviour as well as lead to outstanding academic results.

Point proven, then. Meanwhile, here’s an overview of some of the research on what might influence student behaviour.

Are parents to blame for bad behaviour?Tes News
As hysteria mounts over knife crime, school exclusions and persistent bad behaviour, “I blame the parents” is once again a common refrain. But to what extent does parenting affect how a child behaves in school? Considering the number of parenting courses on offer through schools, and through government services, the perception is clearly that the impact is significant. But, as always, it’s a bit more complex than that.

Well said. Meanwhile.

Packed your school bag, kids?

There are other collections of school exercise books around, but this one is fully online and looks to be vast, with hundreds of children’s exercise books from across the globe, from the 1700s to 2000s.

Exercise Book Archive
The Exercise Book Archive is an ever-growing collection of old exercise books from all over the world. Everybody is invited to discover the history, education, and daily life of the children and young people of the past through this unique material.

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The Boeing. France, March 31, 1973

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3rd year of school 1943-44. Austria, September 1943

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My Friend. United Kingdom, March 7, 1936

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The blizzard at Honey Brook. United States of America, February 1899

Time to take Media Studies seriously

There’s nothing new about fake news and misinformation, now. These topics are part of our landscape, unfortunately, and we must do our best to deal with them. A thorough understanding of the media is needed now more than ever.

Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in SchoolsNational Literacy Trust
[T]he final report from the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools, published on 13 June 2018, found that only 2% of children and young people in the UK have the critical literacy skills they need to tell if a news story is real or fake. It also found that almost two-thirds of teachers believe fake news is harming children’s well-being by increasing levels of anxiety, damaging their self-esteem and skewing their world view.

Only 2%? That’s shocking.

Why media education in schools needs to be about much more than ‘fake news’The Conversation
A growing number of educators, policy makers and third-sector groups are calling for news and critical digital literacy to be taught in schools, with over half of teachers reporting that the current national curriculum does not equip pupils with the literacy skills they need to tackle fake news.

In its final report on Fake News, published in February 2019, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reiterated its calls for digital literacy to be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths. But thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

It’s not just our young people that need upskilling in this area, of course. Remember that photo of the boy lying on the floor of the LGI during the election campaign?

‘Do not believe a stranger on social media who disappears into the night’ – An open letter from our editor to youYorkshire Post
Margaret, it may well be that those who will benefit the most by breaking the bond of trust you have with the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post have already won, but I urge you to consider which news source you can get in touch with. Who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you they did their best to get it right versus those who pop up on Facebook, spout something so compelling that others share it, and with that undermine the truth and discombobulate decent citizens.

Could do better?

Politicians got a taste of their own medicine whilst they waited for the results of the PISA tests this year. The Programme for International Student Assessment is a way of measuring how effective countries’ education ministers are in improving education standards.

And this year’s results? For some, it was good news.

English school children are climbing the international league tables as rest of the UK lags behindThe Telegraph

Welsh PISA education stats show improvements but country still falling behind rest of UKPowys County Times

Pisa rankings: Irish teens among the best at reading in developed worldThe Irish Times

Keeping score: PISA results has Alberta top of the class in reading, scienceEdmonton Journal

For others, less so.

PISA 2018 test results show over 4 in 10 Romanian students don’t understand what they read; education minister not that worriedRomania Insider

‘It just isn’t working’: PISA test scores cast doubt on U.S. education effortsThe New York Times

PISA tests: Israeli students consistently behind developed worldThe Jerusalem Post

The PISA problem: ‘The rest of the world is moving away from us’The Sydney Morning Herald

So is there anything to learn from this?

After two decades of PISA tests, why haven’t scores risen more?The Economist
The hope at the turn of the millennium was that the wealth of new information would help identify what makes a school system tick, prompting others to follow their lead, and thus causing results to rise across the board. This is not quite how things have worked out. Despite the fact that spending per pupil in the OECD has risen by 15%, average performance in reading, maths and science remains essentially the same as when the tests started. Pick a country at random and it is just as likely to have regressed as improved.

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As The Economist’s article goes on to say, “If a silver bullet for improving education existed it would have been discovered by now.”

A big problem is that many education ministers still pay too little attention to the evidence. Others are hemmed in by the fact they must listen to the views of teachers and parents, who do not always know best. Andreas Schleicher, head of education at the OECD, bemoans the fact that lots of countries have, for instance, prioritised shrinking classes over hiring and training excellent teachers, despite evidence suggesting this is a bad idea. As he points out, one place that has given the quality of the teacher priority over the size of the class is Shanghai. Another is Singapore. And they are reaping the benefits.

Let’s see what our own government make of it all.

Poor performance

For such a small number, a school’s Progress 8 score can be quite a big deal. So the last thing we need is an exam board messing up the performance tables process by not sending complete data to the DfE.

Progress 8 error in performance table checking after BTEC gaffe
Peter Atherton, data manager at a school in Wakefield, told Schools Week some schools had received a “nasty surprise” when they went to check the website.

“It could be the case that, if all of these qualifications were missing for your school, that could affect your progress 8 score by quite a lot. Some schools are saying they’re -0.20 below what they were expecting.”

Gaffe is such an odd word, if you think about it. French, I guess. Would that make Pearson a gaffeur?

It is the second gaffe relating to BTECs to hit the exam board this year.

In August, Pearson was forced to apologise after it hiked grade boundaries for its BTEC Tech Awards just days before pupils were due to collect their results, meaning youngsters were handed lower grades than they were expecting.

Requires improvement, I’d say.

They’re doing their best

People are getting a little twitchy about GCSE results day tomorrow, I think.

Poorer pupils twice as likely to fail key GCSEs
Russell Hobby, the chief executive of the education charity Teach First, which carried out the research, said: “A child’s postcode should never determine how well they do at school, yet today we’ve found huge disparities based on just that. Low attainment at GCSE is a real cause for concern as it can shut doors to future success and holds young people back from meeting their aspirations.”

Pupils ‘refusing to sit GCSE exams in new tougher format’
“Making exams harder doesn’t make kids smarter or more employable. It does make them more stressed, anxious and depressed – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” one senior teacher told ASCL.

Another said it was “soul-destroying” to see well-prepared students struggle to cope: “The difficulty of reformed GCSEs places undue stresses upon students and staff. The sheer volume of examinations in such a short space of time leads to tired and weary students.”

GCSE results: further decline in arts and technical subjects
This is a story echoed elsewhere, in the decline in arts GCSE and A-levels and the steady but steep decline in BTEC vocationally related qualifications. And it seems to blame for these changes is the arrival of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) – a set of subjects at GCSE that are said to keep “young people’s options open for further study and future careers” – but which appears to do the opposite.

The result you were after?

Another year, another A-level results day, another set of the usual stories in the media. This one caught my eye, though, about Labour’s plans to change the university application process timeline, removing the need for predicted grades.

A-level results: a minority of students achieve predicted marks, so yes the system should be reformed
It’s generally accepted that going to university plays a significant part in shaping lives, and the skills gained there help to sustain a thriving society. So it seems odd that at the heart of this process is guesswork – with the bulk of university offers based on predicted grades.

Indeed, Labour has announced plans to replace offers based on predicted grades with a new “fairer” system of post-qualification admissions. Under Labour’s plans, students would apply for their higher education place after receiving their results instead of the current system of predicted grades – which the party says penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds.

My first reaction with these kinds of plans is to almost faint at the thought of the upheaval everyone would have to go through. Hundreds of universities, thousands of schools, millions of students. Would there have to be a pilot implementation with just a few schools? Or just a few universities? How would that work? Would that create a two-tier system? Could it really all be turned around in such a short timeframe? What if it all went wrong?

But then, if other countries can do it, why can’t we?

All of which makes Labour’s most recent suggestions of reforming the system a step in the right direction. Indeed, a 2019 report from The University and College Union revealed that post-qualification admissions were the global norm, and that countries the UK often benchmarks against – such as Germany, Singapore, Australia and the US – all use this system.

The OECD’s top five countries with the highest performing graduates also use post-qualification admissions – so it’s possible that students in those countries are being better matched to institutions and thriving accordingly.

New from the DfE

The GOV.UK website is enormous, and with new publications and announcements being released every day, it’s easy to miss something important. Thankfully, most topics, departments and even ministers have a ‘get email alerts’ link that’s really helpful. I’ve signed up for email alerts from the Department of Education. Here are a few recent publications that caught my eye.

Advice for schools on how to prepare for Brexit
Including: Informing pupils and staff from the EU about the EU Settlement Scheme; EU pupils and staff arriving after Brexit; School places for EU nationals and UK pupils returning to England from the EU after Brexit; Data Protection; Food supplies; Medical supplies.

Teacher workload advisory group report and government response
This report from the Teacher workload advisory group sets out recommendations and principles to reduce the unnecessary workload associated with data and evidence collection. The government has accepted all the recommendations in full.

Understanding child and adolescent wellbeing: a system map
A report on the factors that influence children and young people’s (CYP) wellbeing from the perspective of CYP practitioners. This research used system mapping to capture the perceptions of the 21 children and young people’s (CYP) practitioners who participated in the study.

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Lighter school bags?

Textbook publisher Pearson is moving to “digital first model, effectively killing future print editions of its college textbooks,” according to Publishers Weekly.

Pearson puts print books to bed
“Students are demanding easier access and more affordable higher education materials, with nearly 90% of learners using some kind of digital education tool,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement. “We’ve changed our business model to deliver affordable, convenient, and personalized digital materials to students. Our digital first model lowers prices for students and, over time, increases our revenues. By providing better value to students, they have less reason to turn to the secondary market. This will create a more predictable, visible revenue stream with a better quality of earnings that enables us to serve the needs of learners and customers more effectively. Our digital courseware makes learning more active, engaging and immersive, improving outcomes for students and their teachers, and helping college leaders meet the growing demand for lifelong learning.”

Playing to your strengths

Being at school can be stressful, as this study from Ireland shows, and students’ well-being seems to steadily decline as they make their way to their final exams. But are some children better at maintaining good mental health than others? The key might lie with whether students are in touch with their character strengths.

Well-being of students starts to decline from the moment they enter secondary school
But our study also found that the biggest predictor of lower levels of well-being was when students did not regularly use their greatest strengths of character. Strengths of character can be measured using a survey like this one by VIA. The survey identifies teenagers’ top strengths that they can use during their daily lives.

But just because someone’s top strengths might be honesty, prudence and perseverance, does not mean that they use these strengths frequently. Those who scored the highest for using their strengths daily, also had the highest scores on their levels of well-being. Therefore, using character strengths every day could help secondary school pupils to maintain higher levels of well-being.

You can learn about your character strengths through questionnaires like this one, from the VIA Institute on Character.

Bring your character strengths to life & live more fully – VIA Institute
When you discover your greatest strengths, you learn to use them to handle stress and life challenges, become happier, and develop relationships with those who matter most to you. What are your strengths?

I worry sometimes that I’m too cynical with such things. Is the secret to better emotional health and well-being really as straightforward as completing a 10-minute questionnaire, being told what your strengths are (or rather, what you want them to be), and acting on them?

Maybe I should give this a go. This emphasis on strengths of character does chime with what I’ve been learning about Stoicism, after all.