With the return of pupils on the horizon and the next phase of post-lockdown teaching to begin in earnest, there will be a growing consideration over the coming weeks of what’s next for education for the duration of this academic year. With the removal of statutory assessments across a wide range of key stages, the expectation and motivation of some of our pupils may be hard to realign until the final weeks of July; a wave of educational disenfranchisement maybe waiting to surge for some year groups.
As educators, the rhetoric towards these key indicators of progress have been rehearsed year upon year, class by class and awkward telephone call to parents and so on. The regular beat of the final stages of the school year will, no doubt, echo the discordant irregularity of the current rhythm we have been following since March last year. The usual familiar pattern and tempo of term upon term is no longer audible, more currently representative of free form Jazz than the usual security of the allegros and lentissimos of the educational orchestral symphony.
Of course, as educators, welcoming children back in to schools will, no doubt, bring a sense of normality and considerable happiness for parents, pupils and staff alike. After all, it’s what we came in to the profession for; the desire to teach a range of subjects, passing on our excitement and passion for education and the irreplaceable joy of igniting the illumination of learning.
For most, a return to the class room will be the first time back for some pupils since December 2020 and, for certain children, longer due to periods of self isolation or illness. Whatever the date, returning to school, preparing for learning, meeting friends and starting to piece back the education that was previously being taught online will, without a doubt, be a challenge for some.
Although having maintained a sense of a curriculum offer throughout this lockdown, the newly discovered phraseology of education is even more present in our strategic planning for the coming term. The mantra of ‘catch-up’ is now the prevailing academic chatter for the foreseeable future.
Although a truism on all counts, the terminology of ‘catch up’ is problematic. To ‘catch up’ is to suggest there is a defined point to which we will need to reach; a point to take pupils and students to, before they can move on in their educational journey.
The issue lies in the chosen destination and what we are trying to achieve during this process of ‘catch-up’. Reflecting carefully, we need to decide nationally if what we are aiming for is equitable for all and, indeed, achievable. The utterance of ‘catch-up’ implies that we are, perhaps in its purest form, aiming for a educational level playing field, an agreed age related expectation, an academic marker of success, a score, a grade or, quite possibly, a vague line in the sand.
Unfortunately, since the removal of APP, the common language of assessment across our education system has hugely changed and, even more importantly, become customised and widely reinterpreted by many schools across the UK. What skills and knowledge a pupil in Year 3 or 4 needs to acquire to achieve the age related level in one school maybe different in another. Of course, we can continue to utilise existing markers for key groups of children, Year 6, Year 11 and those in Key Stage 5, but what about the pupils moving towards these transitional year groups? If we are all going to catch up, would it be beneficial to ‘catch up’ to the same place, the same point; an educationally agreed destination for all year groups.
But, alas, this conversation is one that may have needed to have taking place, before the return of all pupils. Not within our own institutions but across the UK. A collaborative and progressive discussion across all sectors of education to ensure we don’t create a culture of catch-up which only serves to create further discrepancies and variance across schools in the UK. I’m sure like most educators, It would be a significant concern to many that, when the wheel of assessment starts to turn again, we only then see if our catch-up strategy has been effective.
This is a chance in a generation to talk and agree a set principles for the national agenda of education for the remaining weeks and terms of the academic year. Please note, this is not a nostalgic, romanticised remembrance of APP nor a nod to any sense of nostalgic revival but the commonality of language, however patchy, may have allowed us to have something to go on. A starter for ten. Something to look at, rip up, put back together and then make it work.
A national language of catch-up needs to be accompanied with some semblance of national guidance in order to make it equitable for all our pupils. A real conversation to move us all forward together; creating opportunity for success out of the tragic times we have all faced. A chance for educators to work collaborative for the betterment of today and the tomorrows to comes.
Wherever we turn, we will, no doubt, do our very best as schools and colleges to ensure we assess key gaps of knowledge, redevelop skills and address misconceptions with a laser-like focus. It’s just what we do.
That said, our focus in education after any long break away from school lies within the reestablishment of our individual school cultures, reframing and supporting behaviour for learning, encouraging play and social interaction, developing pupil trust in our routines and systems and, importantly, ensuring that when our pupils do return, they are feeling safe, supported and secure in their scholastic environment and developing independence, language and friendships once again.
So as we prepare and wait for the gates to open for many more of our pupils, we have an important job to consider and complete and, with an agreed framework currently not available, we must now decide what the language of catch-up mean to us and our communities.
Wherever our thoughts and conversations lead us, let us just remember to consider the bigger picture. The previous academic years and the gaps that were present then. It might just be the start we need.