Over 1500 teachers attend School’s North East’s CelebrateEd – The Northern Celebration of Education

Due to the current Coronavirus crisis, the second Northern Celebration of Education, CelebrateEd was delivered as a virtual webinar series. However, that didn’t stop well over a thousand teachers from across the North East and beyond from joining us over four days for a line up of more than 40 sessions focussing on what teachers do at the chalkface. 

As well as attracting big name speakers like Ross McGill, David Weston, Simon Hunt, Sam Twisleton and Amjad Ali, CelebrateEd is a celebration of all that our teachers do. With practical sessions from the classroom, quickfire teachmeets, and panel discussions between teachers, this event really showcased the best in teaching practice from classrooms across the North.

Day 1 

Kicking off CelebrateEd, Schools North East’s Director, Chris Zarraga, highlighted that during the ongoing crisis ‘schools and their staff truly have been the ‘Fourth Emergency Service’’ and that this deserves to be shouted about and celebrated. So it was more important than ever to ensure that this year’s Northern Celebration of Education went ahead, showcasing the hard work of the profession and combating the unfairly negative narrative that much of the media is currently peddling. 

Tuesday’s keynote speaker Ross McGill gave an information packed session, looking at perceptions and challenges in the education sector, analysing what teachers and senior leaders find most difficult, and research informed methods of dealing with these issues. Emphasising the importance of research informed practice, the following session saw Deputy Head of Acklam Grange School, Jon Tait, talk about how to become ‘research informed’ and embed this in your school, department or personal practice. 

The last session of the day brought together a host of frontline teachers: Alex Fairlamb from St Wilfrid’s RC College, Helen Tarokh from Heathfield Primary, Charlotte Fryett from St Joseph’s Catholic Academy, and James Wilson from Duchess High, looking at the ‘recovery curriculum’ needed for when schools return full-time. A key aspect of this was pupil wellbeing and mental health, something which all panelists emphasised as a priority before catching up with the ‘proper’ curriculum. This session left plenty of food for thought and was incredibly timely given many schools are looking at extending their opening in the next few weeks. 

Day 2

The second day of CelebrateEd just happened to fall on a mini heatwave, but even that didn’t stop teachers from tuning in live to be part of the event. Opening the day Schools North East Trustee Colin Lofthouse emphasised the importance of the grassroots educational culture our teachers are building, especially in light of current circumstances. Simon Hunt, Wednesday’s keynote speaker carried on with this theme, talking about how you can be innovative in your practice by embracing the connections that social and digital media offer us in the classroom. Examples from his own practice, inspiring students by connecting them with their favourite authors, and engaging students in topical environmental issues by connecting them with people and organisations around the world showed just how powerful that could be. 

This idea of engaging students was explored further by David Bailey from Bishop Hogarth Education Trust, talking about how we use starters and what we can do to make the most of this, and not only ‘hook’ students but take the opportunity to dig deeper into a topic. Rounding off the day Amjad Ali looked at the barriers students face to learning in the classroom and practical things we can do to break them down. A great takeaway from his session which resonated with many delegates was the idea of ‘try, refine, ditch’, encouraging people to reflect on their own practice. This was a great concept not just for this session, but the conference as a whole, and we would love to hear what you are planning to ‘try, refine and ditch’ from the whole event – let us know on Twitter!

Of course, CelebrateEd is all about celebrating the work that our teachers do, so it was apt that the second day of the event fell on #ThankaTeacherDay. To celebrate, we had some fantastic performances and videos from students thanking their teachers for all of the hard work they do!  This included pupils from Walkergate Community School, Benton Dene Primary and St Teresa’s Catholic Primary, as well as students from Barnsley College.

Day 3

David Weston, CEO and Founder of Teacher Development Trust opened the third day of sessions discussing teamwork and collaboration, and what we can do to foster a better culture of this in our schools. Collaborating is a key element of the educational culture we aim to drive as part of our Ednorth programme so it was great to see David highlight how important it is and what teachers can do to develop this. Next up Sarah Birch from River Tees Multi Academy Trust talked delegates through managing responses to behaviour in a session she specifically adapted in light of the planned extended opening of schools. Providing us with practical strategies and specific advice around the behaviours we may see as more students return, Sarah highlighted the importance of meeting student’s psychological and emotional needs before trying to teach them. This again reiterates a common theme that mental health will be the topmost priority as students return. 

After a short break, Dr Dave Walters from Exeter University returned to the topic of research and the impact that a whole school approach can have on student outcomes. After a short demo session from sponsor Sparx, in the final session of the day Sarah Cottingham from Ambition Institute looked at forming (and breaking) habits. Digging deeper into the psychology of how we form habits was really useful to help teachers both in their own practice, but also in thinking about how we can encourage students in forming positive habits. This will be incredibly useful in coming weeks and months as students need to learn new habits to make a return to school safe. 

Day 4

The final day of CelebrateEd began with a really practical ‘quickfire’ teachmeet featuring staff from schools across the region sharing tips and tricks in short 5 minute bursts. Teachers contributing included:

Amy Duke, Ribbon Academy with Retrieval Practice in the Primary Classroom
Sonia Herlingshaw and Neil Salter, Ironstone Academy looking at a Model for School Improvement
Alex Fairlamb, St Wilfrid’s giving us an Introduction to Metacognitive practices for self and peer assessment
James Hoyle, Skipton Girls High School exploring 5 effective formative assessment ideas
Louise Goodrum, Heathfield Primary with Helicopter Stories
Matthew Bainbridge, Unity City Academy looking at Lesson Observation Feedback and links with appraisal
David Greenshields,Grace College, Gateshead on Establishing Teacher Learning Communities

Next up was the final keynote of the event, Amjad Ali who gave an inspiring reminder about how important teaching is and combatted some of the negative press the profession has seen. Finally, the last session saw Sam Twisleton Director of Director of Sheffield Institute of Education explore the ITT framework and new Early Career Teacher Framework.

Rounding off the event Schools North East Chair John Hardy praised our ‘truly heroic’ teachers across the region and beyond who have been supporting schools and their families, as well as the all of the practitioners involved in the event who have shown that the North East teaching profession is really driving innovation in the profession.

Despite the challenges faced in the current situation, CelebrateEd proved to be a fantastic four days and we are pleased that so many teachers from the region and beyond could join us to see the fantastic work that teachers, and teachers in our region do.

If you missed the event, it is not too late! You can still join the event to access recordings of all the live sessions and all additional prerecorded sessions. Visit https://www.ednorth.uk/celebrateed for more information.

Preparing for the wider reopening of schools with Ward Hadaway

On Thursday, Graham Vials and Tristan Meears-White from Ward Hadaway law firm presented a webinar on preparing for the wider reopening of schools, with over 200 delegates from across the region watching. The webinar covered how employees were impacted by the decision to open schools on 1st June, and the responsibilities and obligations of schools when it comes to ensuring a safe workplace.

Both Graham and Tristan noted that while there is a lot of information and guidance available, it comes from many different organisations which may provide contradictory advice, with the risk of information overload which naturally creates a confusing situation for schools.

With this in mind, it is important to get back to the basics of the core responsibilities of an employer and keeping employees safe. Central to this, both emphasised the need for planning and communication with staff at all stages as crucial.

They highlighted the fact that no school would be the same, with general guidance having to be applied to the specific school profile. Employers would need to justify decisions they make, and so again the importance of planning, risk assessments, and consultation with staff is clear.

The decisions being made do not simply present legal hurdles, but ones of ‘heart and mind’, and employers should be looking to reassure staff. Where staff may be refusing to come in, it is important to consider the personal circumstances. Important circumstances to consider are issues of childcare, if they have to use public transport, or if they fall into a vulnerable category (or if they live with someone who does).

While fears of increased risk of infection is not in itself enough for employees to refuse attending work, both Graham and Tristan once again emphasised the importance of communicating with staff, and that refusing to compromise could lead to staff taking sickness absence due to anxiety. Employers should be looking to remind staff of any workplace confidential counselling that can be provided.

More specific questions looked at provision of PPE and taking temperatures, and reference was made to the current guidance on this (that both are not currently required by schools).

They also noted that this is a changing situation, and plans would have to develop accordingly. As schools have to make these changes and plans, we at Schools North East will be looking to support school leaders in the region as much as we can, both in the run up to 1st June and after. If you have any questions about the issues raised here, please do let us know.

Thinking about NTS in the Covid Era

The ongoing situation and school closures as result of Covid-19 have a number of different implications for the education sector. We want to dig deeper into this issues, with help from the experts. This week, Professor Samantha Twiselton OBE, Director of Sheffield Institute of Education, explores the impact of the coronavirus crisis on new teachers.

Covid has brought such a range of challenges for everyone working in the education sector. This includes an important group who are feeling very vulnerable right now – those who are about to become Newly Qualified Teachers. 

We all know that education is going to be one of the most important features of the rebuilding (and maybe even to some extent reimagining) of our communities and society going forward. It is therefore more important than ever that we look after those who represent such an important part of the teaching profession’s future.

The good news is that from my recent experience, this incoming set of NQTs are already stepping up in preparation for their important role. Some are serving the school communities they belong to by supporting with remote learning or for example volunteering help with free school meal deliveries often whilst juggling a range of other commitments. All are seizing the opportunity to really look after their own professional development by combining the work set by their ITE providers with a more personalised approach that focuses on their individual priorities. 

However, they are also very worried about the time they are missing in the classroom and the impact this may have on their confidence and competence in September. We do need to take their fears seriously. The final third of a PGCE year is typically mainly spent in school and is usually a huge growth point in the making of a new teacher. The absence of this is bound to be severely felt and we need to be mindful of this when supporting and adjusting our expectations for teachers taking up their first jobs next year.

In my experience, however, the anxiety they are experiencing right now is being channelled in positive and useful ways. I have been so impressed with how seriously they are taking the challenge of maximising the time they have between being so suddenly and traumatically disrupted from the school-based element of their ITE and when they will be back in the classroom. 

The fact that lockdown is happening during the period of ITE where accelerated growth usually happens on final school placement does not mean that they are still not able to continue to develop while a step removed. Taking time to really stand back and reflect and use the range of tools available to analyse teaching and learning with forensic detail may prove to be extremely beneficial when they do return to the classroom. 

Many are availing themselves of the tremendous online CPD being made available by organisations like the Chartered College of Teaching and the Teacher Development Trust. To do this alongside scrutinization of online teaching for pupils in the form of (for example) the Oak Academy could be so beneficial. The ability to really study how others make complex concepts accessible and meaningful to pupils at different stages is a great benefit and is likely to prove useful in the future. Bringing together thinking about the bigger picture of what teachers are there to do for their learners with studying micro-moments of practice is such a supportive process for new teachers.

Come September it is very likely that all in school – from new teachers to senior leaders will inevitably be rightly focused on very practical issues. Establishing new socially distanced routines, relationships and ways of working with pupils who have had a long period away from school will be top priority. For some children these will include circumstances involving a range of trauma. Addressing these challenges will be ‘all hands-on deck’ in this endeavour. If this is done in a culture of teamwork and mutual support, my prediction is that this will make a conducive and supportive context for new entrants to the profession. To get through this initial period in a spirit of support and pragmatism seems sensible. 

As things settle to a ‘new normal’ the foundation of principled reflection on and analysis of practice that has been established during this strange period we are living through will hopefully really benefit new teachers, if mentors and school leaders support them to link this learning to their experience in the classroom after things have settled down in school.

North East Schools Leading the Way in Educational Practice

Schools North East Trustee and CEO of SMART Academy Colin Lofhouse introduced the second day of CelebrateEd emphasising the importance of grassroots educational practice and the burgeoning educational culture of the North East leading the way in education. 

Good afternoon colleagues and welcome to the Schools North East Celebration of Education. 

If you managed to take part yesterday you will have been treated to some fascinating sessions that showcase some of the best most creative practice and research – which is the daily offer in schools across our region in all phases. 

The best thing about this event, made even more special and remarkable this year – happening as it is: online –  against the background of the current pandemic response, is that it is born out of grass-root practice. Yes we have some excellent and notable professional speakers giving keynote speeches and I hope you are interested and engaged by what they say. But the vast majority of the pre-recorded sessions are delivered by practitioners whose normal working lives are front line delivery in our schools, 6th forms, colleges and Early Years settings. All of them passionate and enthused by devising and delivering the very best quality education we can for our children and young people. 

It is truly humbling to see how the success of this event as a showcase of their work has grown in a short space of time into an event which belies its relative newness with 1400 participants signed up to date. 

What humbles me most is not so much the breadth of interest and research (which is truly miles wide), nor the quantity and diversity of speakers (which is equally varied and drawn from every phase). No, the thing that most humbles me is the knowledge and appreciation it gives me for the fantastic culture and ethos for experimentation, innovation and creativity that is evidently thriving across the North East in our places of education. 

For any practitioner to engage in research into a different practice, whether that is borne out of a desire to be different, seek an answer, to shift outcomes or simply because it’s something that fascinates, the culture in those institutions from the top down needs to be imbued with trust. 

Change requires energy – lots of it. It’s scary to change embedded practice; it requires a highly positive climate in which to experiment without fear of judgement. Confidence to fail is needed to try new things out and be open about explaining what went wrong so we can learn and move on. Trust is a fundamental starting point for this kind of transformational activity.

Take a situation where you have six ideas for change in your school. You try the first two, they fail, then a third which also fails. Who would keep going on the fourth, fifth, sixth? Only the brave? Certainly only those in schools where there was massive trust from school leaders to continue to support their teachers to keep going. But what if the sixth unlocked massive improvement in outcomes?

Research into the success of innovative Silicone Valley companies identified a common thread – of an empowered attitude to failure. Coined the ‘Silcone Valley Mindset’, later to be coined (growth mindset) it was the courage to test out and embrace failure until they struck gold.

Everyone you will hear from today works somewhere where that culture is embraced and celebrated and nurtured – which is why I am so excited by the potential and reality for North East schools to lead the way in education.

Throughout my career as a school leader I have been drawn to the work of Megan Tschannen-Moran, in her book Trust Matters she talks of the fundamental principles of trust being one’s willingness to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open.

I am going to read to you her definitions of those 5 principles, but before I do I want to pause to allow you to bring to the front of your mind (as if it could be anywhere else) the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in as educational professionals at the moment – government is asking schools to respond to the Covid19 crisis, to provide innovative, creative solutions to home learning and be experimental and brave in finding solutions to bring more children back into our schools in a climate of uncertainty and fear.

But what they  – ministers, the department, certain keyboard twitter and media commentators, even our very own Minister who was not so long ago speaking to us at the Schools North East Academies conference pledging support to the amazing educators of the North East – the very culture that they have created for us to work in to solve those problems is toxic and so lacking in trust.

As you listen to the definitions hold in your mind that – but also the flipside which is the incredibly positive culture and ethos of trust which is hopefully present in your workplace and amongst your colleagues. 

Benevolence: confidence that well-being is protected

Reliability: the extent to which you can count on another

Competency: the extent to which the trusted party has knowledge and skill

Honesty: the integrity and authenticity of the trusted party

Openness: the extent to which there is no withholding of information from others

I am sensing and imagining the likely responses to that list – the tired, grim, eye-rolling responses when you consider the absence of those principles from the current school re-opening debate. 

But also the smiles and nods of recognition that those principles are alive and well in our workplaces. Principles that in fact we can all hope to benefit from and in turn give to others – both our colleagues and our children and young people. 

So when I look at the jobs you are all doing at the moment in your schools and I think about the can do attitude, see the innovation, determination creativity and drive to continue to do your very best I see why that is happening – because we have it right in our schools: we know and understand the need for and impact of trust in our organisations. 

I hope many of you read a blog posted yesterday by Tom Sherrington – and I want to read the closing paragraph which is a clarion call for hope and steadfastness to all teachers, leaders and staff in our places of education 

I stand in Awe. And we should have hope and faith.  With people like this all over the country, doing what they’re doing,  we’re going to do OK.  We will prevail; we will recover.  Not because of anything the DFE or a nobody commentator has to say – but because of the deep commitment, the principles and energy that flood our system against all odds.

I’m standing in awe. We all should be.

I am delighted to get the chance to talk to so many of you today of all days as it is National Thank a Teacher Day – and in that definition I include the whole teams of staff who are working in our schools day in day out. 

Thank you for being creative, energetic, experimental, brave and most of all trusting of one-another.

Thank you for your commitment to the education of children and young people in the North East. 

Thank you for being part of the right culture which allows you all to research, experiment, fail and problem solve in your schools. 

Enjoy the rest of your day and the sessions you listen to.

That’s all from me – Thank you. 

The Education Committee hears evidence on the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable children

The Education Select Committee held the third evidence session of their inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services on Tuesday. First to give evidence were Jenny Coles, President at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and Javed Khan, CEO at Barnardo’s.

Supporting vulnerable children

Both emphasised the current impact that the lockdown was having on vulnerable children. Javed Khan mentioned that they had done a survey of their frontline practitioners, covering about 1000 members of staff. 75 per cent were supporting families affected by school closures, 38 per cent were supporting families where children could attend school but were choosing not to, and 48 per cent were reporting that there were children that they had safeguarding concerns about, but the families were refusing contact due to self-isolation. These figures highlight the broad challenges currently faced in supporting vulnerable children.

Jenny Coles reiterated these concerns, and that LAs were developing new ways of contacting families, and that a variety of services are carrying on. She also said that in some cases looked after children were thriving without the normal pressures of school, and so in these cases the concern was for the longer term.

Local partnerships and strategic networks

This longer term concern was mentioned by both, with vulnerable children having many of their pre-existing challenges exacerbated, and also for those hidden cases which may emerge as a result of the lockdown, but haven’t yet been identified. Javed Khan said schools would play a central role in identifying these vulnerable children, and acting as a safe space within the community. For this to take place though, schools would need proper supporting and funding, and the development of new strategic networks.

Jenny Coles similarly discussed the importance of strategic networks, and that in dealing with the current challenges LAs were developing important partnerships which she hoped to see continuing to develop in the longer term. Both argued that these networks and partnerships should be utilised to ensure that we are not just focussing on the academic impact of the coronavirus lockdown, but of equal importance to ensure pastoral support.

After this, Emily Konstantas, Chief Executive of The Safeguarding Alliance, Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of National Association of Head Teachers gave evidence.

Emily Konstantas reiterated many of the points raised in the previous session, noting that schools know their children, and so are well placed to identify vulnerable children and would need relevant support and powers to address this.

Guidance from the Department for Education

Paul Whiteman answered questions on the guidance from the Government on schools reopening, noting that while the NAHT have been engaged with the DfE, the conversations were general. He expressed disappointment that the advice being given out appeared contradictory, and the lack of clarity on how to accommodate social distancing measures, and was concerned that the Government guidance would not give confidence to parents or staff. He went on to say that teaching staff do want to reopen schools, and none want to delay this, but only if they could be confident it was safe to do so.

Summer holidays

Further questions in this session looked at opening schools over the summer. Paul Whiteman expressed concerns about fatigue for both staff and children, due to the lack of a proper break since December and fears that this may lead to burnouts. Emily Konstantas said it would have to be established what schools would be doing over summer if they were open, whether this would be educational or as a wider care setting. She argued that schools could be open, but as hubs for support, not necessarily staffed by teachers.

Education sector reacts to planned return to school

Sunday’s much anticipated announcement on extending the opening of schools brought the expected news that the Government aims for schools to reopen by 1st June. Surprisingly, while speculation had mainly been that this would be for Year 6, the announcement also included nursery, Reception and Year 1, putting an extra burden on primary schools planning for their reopening. However, the announcement failed to offer anything further in terms of guidance for school leaders leaving many with serious practical questions and significant concerns. 

Further guidance raises more questions

Further guidance released earlier this week has largely failed to clarify the situation, and has actually raised further concerns. The guidance states that groups should be limited to 15 which, while helping with social distancing, puts pressure on staffing. A planning document from the Department for Education states that offers are expected to be on a full time basis. This will put even further pressure on schools where a part-time offer was being considered to make staffing and social distancing feasible. 

Equally, a guidance statement released on Monday claimed: The Government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible, though this will be kept under review. 

This has obviously caused widespread concern about how primary schools will facilitate precautionary measures such as smaller groups sizes, social distancing and staggered break times with their full intake potentially back in school from 22nd June. 

There are also questions around the purpose of specific years returning, particularly in regards to prioritising younger year groups over those with key exams next year. With the focus on Year 6 being about transition from Primary to Secondary, there are questions around what will be done to support their transition, as this often involves visits to their Secondary schools. A planning document released on Thursday night states: ‘Though visits to secondary schools for induction will not take place this year, some secondary schools may have capacity to undertake remote induction briefings or other types of sessions for pupils, for example to meet form tutors, heads of year, or other key staff, or have a tour of the school virtually. You should discuss the options with your secondary schools.

Furthermore there is no clarity around flexibility for this in a three tier system, where it is Years 4 and 8 which would be transitioning, removing the need for a return for Year 6 pupils in these schools. 


The announcement has generated significant criticism. Nine education unions have written a joint statement urging the Government to “step back” from plans to reopen schools from June 1 amid ongoing safety concerns. Some unions have encouraged members to contact school leaders about not engaging in plans to return, adding more pressure to staffing issues, and the planning process. 

A further debate has been sparked over PPE for school staff, as DfE Guidance stated that the “majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of two metres from others”. 

Additionally, there is a huge question of confidence amongst parents about sending their children to school. A recent survey from Parentkind showed a very mixed response from parents, but highlighted that 35% parents would not be comfortable sending their children back before September or before a vaccine is available. It has been confirmed that there will be no fines for non-attendance, further increasing the likelihood of parents keeping children at home. 

Moving forwards

We know that all of our schools are working hard to plan for the possible extended opening, and we are here to support you in any way we can. You can help us do this by answering this very short survey on the planned return. 

We will continue to monitor the situation to provide updates on guidance released and share advice on plans for reopening. Finally, as previously stated we urge the Government to only reopen schools when it is safe to do so and to give schools the proper guidance, as well as a level of flexibility to do this safely in their context.

Gavin Williamson defends plans to reopen schools on 1st June

On Wednesday, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education, Layla Moran, secured an urgent question on the reopening of schools announced in the Government’s coronavirus briefing on Sunday.

The Secretary of State defended the Government’s plans in the House of Commons, saying that while he is immensely grateful for the response of all those working in education, the greatest impact of school closures has been on children. 

Reiterating the plans for a phased reopening, with primary schools being asked to welcome back reception, year 1 and year 6 children in smaller class sizes from 1st June at the earliest, Gavin Williamson argued that the Government ‘continue to follow the best medical and scientific advice, and we believe that this phased return is the most sensible course of action to take.’ He also noted that the Government was following international examples, mirroring Denmark’s reopening of schools.

As well as scientific advice, Gavin Williamson emphasised that the Department for Education had been working closely with Head Teachers’ unions and the sector, which had informed the guidance. However, Gateshead MP and member of the Education Select Committee Ian Mearns questioned this, noting that the National Association of Head Teachers had said that Head Teachers had not been consulted on the proposed date of return, arguing that it is only partially true that the Government had been working with the sector.

The Shadow Secretary of State, Rebecca Long-Bailey, as well as former Education Secretary Damian Hinds, both asked about the need for flexibility and ensuring schools are able to plan for their specific contexts, especially in those settings where social distancing will be hard to maintain. Gavin Williamson confirmed that schools would be given flexibility within the guidelines, although provided little detail on what this might look like.

Throughout the debate, politicians praised the work of teachers, including two MPs from the region. Conservative MP Richard Holden thanked teachers for their ‘selfless actions throughout the global pandemic’, and Labour MP Mary Kelly Foy for their ‘dedication throughout the pandemic’.

Record numbers for Northern Governance Conference

We may not have been able to hold a physical event this year, but that didn’t stop Schools North East from hosting a fantastic line up with record numbers for the fourth annual Northern Governance Conference 2020. 

Due to the Coronavirus crisis, the physical event was unable to go ahead, however at a time where many are reflecting on their roles and have the opportunity to do more CPD, it was really important that we still provide this opportunity for Governors from across the North. Moving the event online, with live webinars over three days, spread weekly proved popular, with over 350 governors from across the region signing up, doubling last year’s attendance. We were also able to support governors from outside of the region, with Governors joining from North Yorkshire, Bolton, Cumbria, Burnley, Blackburn, Bradford and Leicester. 

Governors tuned into live keynote webinars from a number of key figures in the sector, including Sir David Carter, Director of Executive Director of System Leadership, Ambition Institute, Emma Knights CEO, National Governance Association and Emma Ing, Regional Director, Ofsted as well as a live session and Q&A from Interim Regional Schools Commissioner, Katherine Cowell, who adapted her session in light of Sunday’s announcement about the planned return to school. 

The conference saw a mix of sessions with some focused on what you can do as a governor in the current crisis, with Sir David Carter looking at the phases of the crisis, to help governors reflect on their actions so far and plan what to do next, while Kaley Foran from The Key looked at the issues schools would be dealing with on reopening, which was timely given this week’s announcement. Nicki Wadley from The School Bus also brought an extremely practical session answering the big questions from the Schools North East governance community. This really interesting session asked governors to reflect and consider what they had done to help their school in the current situation, and to think about what they could do to support their school leaders going forward.

As well as considering the current situation, sessions from Graham Vials, Partner at Ward Hadaway, Simon Richards from NGA and Lindsay Wardle, local school governor and PHD Researcher at Durham University Centre for Evidence Education, looked at more general issues affecting Governing Boards and the skills you need to deal with these, from Exclusion Panels, to Succession Planning and Understanding Disadvantage in your school. 

The Conference was a resounding success with fantastic feedback from delegates. Conversations are continuing in the dedicated Governors group on our ConnectEd online community. If you would like to be part of this sign up today! If you would like to access the recordings of the conference get in touch at events@schoolsnortheast.com. We are looking forward to our next event next week aimed at teaching practitioners – CelebrateEd – The Northern Celebration of Education, and we hope to see you there!

Learning loss and implications for Covid-19 and school closures

The ongoing situation and school closures as result of Covid-19 have a number of different implications for the education sector. We want to dig deeper into this issues, with help from the experts. This week, Dr Emily Mann, Member and Dr Jackie Shinwell, Associate Member of the Healthy Living Lab at Northumbria University, explore the impact of the coronavirus crisis in terms of learning loss.

Since the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak as a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, the UK government announced school closures for all children, with the exception of vulnerable children and children of key workers, from 20 March 2020 and introduced social distancing measures on 23 March 2020, to reduce the spread of the virus. Most children have now been at home for seven weeks, approximately the same length of time of the school summer holidays. The UK government has recently announced that schools may extend their opening to nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils in England from June 1st.. We acknowledge that the safeguarding of children and the health of children, teachers and all school staff are paramount, however we will not debate the public health considerations regarding the proposed reopening of schools. Instead, we will reflect on the impact of school closures, particularly for disadvantaged children, and, drawing on our research on holiday provision and summer learning loss, will consider the potential implications for research informed short-, mid- and long-term strategies to address this issue.

Research has shown that children from low SES start their academic career behind their more affluent peers and children who live in persistent poverty in the UK do less well than children from more affluent families. By the time UK children leave school, at the age of 16, children from low-income families are nearly two years behind their peers from higher income families. Contributing factors for this gap in attainment include low-level education of low-income families, lack of parental involvement and engagement in children’s school progress, lower parental expectations of achievement as well as material factors such as access to resources (laptops, computers, books) and enriching opportunities. The most recent detailed estimates of child poverty (after housing costs) in the North East, published by the End Child Poverty coalition, indicate that in 2017/18 35.3% of children in the North East live in poverty, equivalent to over 200,000 children. Furthermore, it is evident that children from low-income families in the North East perform worse than disadvantaged children from other regions of England: by the age 16, a lower proportion (30%) of disadvantaged pupils in the North East achieve the equivalent of 5 A*-C GSCEs compared to the England average (34%) for disadvantaged children, and there has been very little narrowing of this gap. Thus, whilst school closures will affect the learning of all children, they will disproportionately impact those children from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

We know from our research on school holiday provision that families face challenges during the school holidays and these are more acutely experienced by low-income families; a typical school summer holiday for children from low-income families may mean six to seven weeks of hunger, inactivity, boredom and social isolation until school resumes. To address the challenges of the school holidays for low-income families, hundreds of holiday clubs have been established across the UK, albeit in a piecemeal and fragmented manner, to provide support to families by reducing social isolation, financial hardship, and providing a safe place for children to play and access enrichment activities. In addition, it is speculated that  children attending school holiday clubs continue to learn and it has been suggested that this may help reduce the gap in attainment between children from different socio-economic backgrounds and potentially reduce learning loss. It should be noted that these school holiday clubs differ significantly to summer teaching schools that provide formal academic lessons. Rather school holiday clubs offer parents support with childcare, and children a range of activities (e.g. day trips, arts and crafts, sports etc.) to participate in. Thus learning and socialisation occurs in a far more informal manner. 

Learning loss has been defined as the tendency for children to lose skills and knowledge across the summer holidays, particularly in maths and reading. Whilst there are a number of studies from North America and Europe examining this phenomenon, there are only two studies on the UK population (Shinwell & Defeyter, 2017, 2020), and the authors concluded that at best, children’s learning stagnates over the summer. Shinwell & Defeyter, found that children who lived in and attended schools in areas of high deprivation lost skills and knowledge in spelling, but after seven weeks of teaching, performance improved and exceeded levels achieved at the end of the previous term; although no significant changes occurred with regard to children’s performance in reading. Moreover, after a six week summer break, children’s learning in maths computation stagnated. Clearly, it is not just children in the UK who have not been able to attend school since the Covid-19 pandemic, and using data from studies of summer learning loss, researchers have predicted that at best children’s learning will stall, and estimated that by the time children return to school in September, their learning and level of skills, at best, will be at the same level when schools closed in March. Worst case scenario suggests that children may lose up to a whole term’s worth of knowledge – returning to school with the level of skills and knowledge they had achieved by December 2019. Teachers and school staff have made vast efforts to bridge the gap between school and home and provide learning material to pupils via a range of mediums. Nevertheless, schools had to respond to the UK government’s announcement of the closure of school buildings and implement programmes of distant learning within a short period of time and thus the quality of these programmes will vary between institutions.  Additional resources have also been made available through BBC bitesize and 180 video lessons have been  produced by the National Oak Academy across a wide range of subjects for each year group. However, on-line learning will be a very different experience and cannot replace what happens in classrooms where children are able to interact with their teachers and peers. 

Whether children’s learning at best stagnates, or worst case scenario declines by up to a whole term’s worth of knowledge, it is important that the government provides advice, guidance and support to schools to help make up for the shortfall in children’s learning. This could include providing advice, guidance on teaching strategies including where in the curriculum teaching should resume and how to test for learning loss to ensure that those children in society who are already at a disadvantage, are able to flourish and not fall even further behind. Evidence from the US demonstrates that schools have the potential to serve as an equalizer, enabling children from all backgrounds to learn at the same rate and prevent the educational gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers from widening further. There is no doubt that whenever schools re-open, teachers and school staff face numerous  challenges relating to social distancing, number of children whom can attend, increased need for psychological support etc. To ease these challenges, schools should be provided with major funding and support from central government. Given that the Education Endowment Fund suggests a significant increase in the educational attainment gap careful modelling is required in order to generate effective interventions to narrow this gap. Recently there have been a number of suggested interventions, from additional half hour catch up sessions, extended schools, to increased holiday provision. While all are well intentioned, we suggest that the government should increase funding to ALL schools and allow head teachers to employ this funding though the most appropriate method in their own school.  To address inequality in educational attainment, an increase in pupil premium would be quick to initiate and would not require the setting up of new funding systems. 

Schools announcement due on Sunday

The Prime Minister is due to announce plans for the next stage after lockdown measures in a briefing on Sunday, including plans for how schools can extend their opening. 

There has been increasing speculation about how and when schools will return, with no dates having been officially announced. Last week Education Secretary Gavin Williamson revealed that any return to school would be a phased one, while Dominic Raab indicated that there would be a second spike if all schools were to ‘reopen’. 

This suggestion that some schools and year groups would return before others seems the most likely course of action with reports that Year 6 pupils will be the first to return, as soon as 1st June, with Years 10 and 12 as the next priority group due to their exams. 

Meanwhile, teaching unions have warned against a premature return, while many in the sector are concerned about the ability to socially distance students. There is also a question around whether, even if schools were to open to more pupils, parents would take up this opportunity. A recent Parentkind survey showed a very mixed set of results around when parents would feel comfortable with their children returning to school, but with 25% indicating September.

Whatever Sunday’s announcement brings, Schools North East is committed to supporting schools through the next phase of the crisis. Let us know how your school is planning to extend your opening.