Written evidence submitted by Rescue Our Schools
Rescue Our Schools is a parent-led group which campaigns for properly funded, locally accountable and creative state education. We have an average reach among mainly parents and teachers of 28,000 on Facebook and engagement of 25,000. Below is a compilation of comments from our Facebook page over the last couple of months, with responses to key areas where you have asked for comments. We have no espoused political position, but clearly our website interests people who want to change the current state of education. Your requested areas are in bold.
What has been the effect of provider closure on the early years sector, including children’s early development?
Feedback suggests lots of families are positive about children being at home and spending more time playing rather than being in increasingly formal settings at school. We think there is a socio-economic dimension here, though, with better off families having the space to allow their children to play at home.
We have had comments that being away from a sometimes harmful school environment has been positive for individual kids and their happiness, and that they have started to pursue a kind of less standardised learning that interests them. “Millions of children may resist the return”, says one parent.
One teacher commented: “They are receiving almost 1 to 1 schooling where their every need and question is answered very quickly. They are not competing with lots of other children (sometimes more than 30!) they are in a comfortable environment and getting to do things that we as teachers would love to have the opportunity to have have time to teach them! All parents are doing wonderful jobs and even if your kids don’t seem to be enjoying it ‘as much as school’ I bet they are! We would love class sizes to be small so we can spend real time with each child!”
Others commented on this: “I agree - despite my daughter at times stating she is bored and missing her friends she seems much more content. It's usually a pleasure to be around then though I was dreading it the way they were when it started.”
“I have found schools reduce the love of learning and problem solving. It is all about achievements and parrot fashion learning. My boys hated school and don’t want to continue to learn, whereas I loved school and continue to learn in my 50s.”
One grandmother felt very young children were reacting anxiety around covid while at home: “Now our grandkids… want even more hugs than usual as they're picking up on the tension generated by the Covid-19 outbreak.”
What has been the effect of cancelling formal exams, including the fairness of qualifications awarded and pupils’ progression to the next stage of education or employment?
There’s a unanimous verdict that children will be deeply affected through becoming very behind in preparing for these tests – and that poorest children will be hardest hit.
One parent commented on Facebook: ”Don’t even START to blame teachers for the fate of the poorest children. The levels of inequality in our society are disgusting.”
There’s also a strong feeling that children are likely to be anxious about transition because they have not had the usual transition events.“ Those transitioning are the ones we need to consider primarily.”
Generally, though, our followers felt no high stakes testing in primary was a blessing:
Vanessa Jackson told us: “The effect of cancelling SAT’s will be a true representation of what education should be and better mental health for teachers and pupils.”
One respondent, Jo Norris, gave us her thoughts on no SATs: “I don’t think there will be an effect on the pupils. Everybody knows that the secondary schools hold KS2 SATs results in low regard and generally reassess anyway. The pupils (and some parents) in KS1 and KS2 have been spared the unnecessary stress these assessments cause. Teachers will crack on and assess pupils once they are back - children can’t fall behind because everyone is in the same situation and what the pupils have missed can still be taught if important and if not be left. No league tables for schools based on test outcomes next year – hooray. They will have a baseline assessment early in KS3 that will be a more realistic starting point for tracking their progress and setting targets.
I think that many children will return to school in a better place for having a break from the relentless push for data driven measurable outcomes. No child is going to fall behind because there has been no school and no teaching as we know it so they haven’t in reality missed anything.”
Most respondents favour getting rid of high stakes tests in primary schools altogether. One Facebook contributor said: “Scrap the tests, let teachers teach!”. Another said: “All Primary tests need to be scrapped !!!!”
There has been talk of the need for teacher assessment to replace standardised tests. Jo Norris said: “Use teacher assessments - less stressful, takes account of a pupils learning style, recognised individuality, recognised potential, informed and personal.”
One parent, commenting on the government’s desire to get schools to reopen asap, said:
If I was a cynical person, I’d wonder if maybe the government cares more about the phonics test and SATs than they do about the health and well-being of our kids.”
With regard to GCSEs and A-Levels, we can report a whole range of reactions from pupils. Some students who were due to take exams this year were initially upset. Others were overjoyed from the start. Schools we are familiar with seemed to vary considerably in how much structure and project work was given to these students to keep them occupied. Some schools were quick to provide materials, others less so.
For students in Year 10 and 12, there seems to be a considerable variation in how they have adapted to no formal schooling in the run up to exams next year. Anecdotally, many non-selective state school students seem to be doing only a couple of hours of work a day. Some schools are accepting this as a realistic amount, others are expecting around four hours a day. We have heard from parents who think this is excessive – particularly for younger year groups – and is causing stress to their children.
In contrast, we are aware of private school students doing a full 6 hours of studying a day with live lessons etc and have heard that some grammar schools (but not all) are offering this level of provision. In summary, the picture seems to vary enormously from school to school and student to student.
The government has produced no information whatsoever to our knowledge on how GCSEs and A-Levels will be administered next year. This is causing anxiety to parents, who are worried that their children will not get through all the work required to catch up. Parents don’t generally know about teacher assessment or reducing the specification so are desperately in need of reassurance.
What has been the support for pupils and families during closures, including, the consistency of messaging from schools and further and higher education providers on remote learning?
This seems to vary enormously between schools. Some schools are closed altogether for key worker and vulnerable students due to lack of demand; others are staying open for up to 40 students (secondary) and delivering food hampers regularly.
Remote learning has varied hugely according to anecdotal accounts. Some schools have been quick off the mark to develop bespoke online material, others have taken far longer. Again, state schools seem to be way behind private schools in this area. For some schools a big issue has been the lack of decent digital access for significant numbers of students. We know of schools where a third of students in every year group don’t have reliable access to anything other than their phones. This has made schools hesitant about investing in online learning because not everyone can access it.
It is frustrating that the govt’s promise to provide free laptops to Year 10s who need them is facing serious delays, so it looks like students won’t receive these until September. It would be good for the education committee to probe why this has been so delayed.
What are the effects on children’s and young people’s mental health and safety outside of the structure and oversight of in-person education?
We know that heads and staff are extremely concerned about the safety of many students, and have heard anecdotally that the number of reports of domestic violence have risen. We are also aware that many families are finding it very difficult to impose a structure and routine on their children. Many students (especially boys) have in effect become nocturnal, doing computer games all night and not getting up until the afternoon. It would be interesting to know if timetabled online lessons would motivate these students to get up earlier, or whether it would make no difference.
Our followers also expressed concern that students may not get enough support for their well-being when they go back to school. Said one: “When they go back they need to have some time being taught in the same way no pressure of SATs etc just being children, growing and learning in a natural way.”
Another said: “Prioritise play. Creativity and art can have an important role in helping children (and adults) to process and express too.” Also this from another follower: “Just let them get back to school when safe and be children again testing can wait.”
What are the financial implications of closures for pupils and families?
We know of families with children at private schools who are concerned they can no longer guarantee being able to pay fees in the future. They have been enquiring about the local state schools as an alternative. At the other end of the scale, we know that many families are reliant on food hampers to be able to feed their children in the absence of free school meals, and have been extremely grateful for this help.
The effect on disadvantaged groups, including the Department’s approach to free school meals and the long-term impact on the most vulnerable groups (such as pupils with special educational needs and disabilities and children in need)?
We understand that some schools have had to fund free school meals and vouchers themselves in the early days of the lockdown because of delays in government money coming through. Again, it would be good to find out why this was so delayed.
We are aware of staff being in constant contact with vulnerable families and doing everything they can to help children with special educational needs, but we get the impression that they are extremely concerned about how these children are coping. To quote one headteacher we know, “some very dark things will result from this”.
What contingency planning can be done to ensure the resilience of the sector in case of any future national emergency?
We need to recreate something like the Becta quango, to ensure there is both comprehensive provision for home-learning and an understanding of the most effective materials for deep learning (as opposed to quizzes and other superficial offerings on the internet based around memorising and regurgitating facts).
We think it is scandalous that so many families have been left with no guaranteed online access to school materials and lessons. It is appalling that Becta was wound up in 2010. The UK was leading in this area but is now massively behind. The victims of this abolition are – surprise, surprise – poor and vulnerable students. Here’s one of our most engaged (and outspoken) correspondents, Anthony Ryan:
“The Tories deliberately destroyed the Ed tech community in the UK. Largely from political spite and bitter envy of the whirlwind of progress made under Labour since 1997. Starting with the insane closure of Becta and carrying on from there. By 2009, we were world leaders in education technology and a whole future was road mapped including a new curriculum for schools, backed by a massive new school building programme, BSF. Gove and his right wing advisers, some barely out of school themselves, instituted a doctrinaire, back to the stone age, destructive programme, setting back education 20 years, in pursuit of an apparent determination to get all schools to emulate a second rate 50s grammar school. The blame for the mess schools are in, in many respects lies squarely with the Tories.”
We also find it surprising that schools had not done their own audit of digital access until now.
But above all we need a government that consults, listens and works with heads and teacher unions rather than coming up with random dates re reopening and ignoring scientific (and other) advisers. It would be good to find out whether this government even listened to the DfE and its advisory committee before announcing when it would like schools to open. One gets the impression decisions were made in isolation by No10 as opposed to being informed by discussions with stakeholders. It’s a totally unprofessional approach which places schools and families in an impossible situation in terms of weighing up the risks to health versus the risks of missing school.