Greater clarity for our students is called for as they return to school

Head lineswith Dennis Richards

Retired headmaster Dennis Richards continuesto study today’s important education topics

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Give students a chance

Our schools return to the classroom in the most difficult and uncertain times imaginable.

Back to the classroom

Uncertainty surrounds us. At least there is some clarity in relation to schools. Both political parties seem committed to keeping our schools and universities open, almost at all costs. That much appears certain.

Recognising status of teachers

Thankfully, at the same time, they appear to be recognising that they will need to elevate the status of our teachers, to be key workers on a par with the NHS.

More on the spot testing, more protection, more investment and absolutely clear guidance on masks for older students. This is also the moment for some clear decisive action on next year’s exam process.

Teachers, unlike some politicians, understand that the exam system is primarily designed to determine a student’s progression to the next appropriate stage of his or her education.

How politicians see exams

Politicians seem to prefer to see the exams system as a means of forcing students and schools into some form of crude rank order. Hence much talk of the need to avoid the dreaded “grade inflation”. As that sentiment drove the exams fiasco last year, there’s every hope it will not return to haunt us again next summer.

The GCSE series of exams is fundamentally in place – or should be – to determine the appropriate course for a student to move on to, either in a school Sixth Form, or Technical College.

Robbie and Tom already know that, even if Marcus Rashford was their Sports teacher, they would not be going on to do PE ‘A’ Level. As for Physics and French, forget it.

Both happen to be passionate musicians and their way forward is clear. In other words, time for a radical decision to dispense with GCSE exams and rely on teacher assessment.

Clarity required

At Advanced Level clarity is also required. And fast! Most subjects are examined through at least two separate exam papers.

There is rarely a vastly significant disparity in a student’s performance in the two exams. Students are already missing school right, left and centre because of the pandemic. The wise move would be, both to reduce the syllabus content and the number of exams ASAP, and certainly before Christmas.

One glimmer of good news. You may remember the advert featuring a ballet dancer informing us “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber”.

In fairness, the government realised it was grotesque and removed it.

A better suggestion for Fatima, should her dream of dance career not be realised, would be to become a teacher. As it happens, I find myself writing more and more references of support for ex-students, who are wishing to train as teachers.

Good news

The one bit of good news in any recession, teacher recruitment improves. Last week’s Advertiser, however, picked up a somewhat disturbing North Yorkshire trend, which now has a chance of being reversed.

Of the 3,829 North Yorkshire teachers in post, only 28 per cent are male. Higher in secondary schools, but still worryingly low. If anyone reading this is facing a career change, give teaching a go.

Good career move

It’s a great career! You won’t be rich, but you will impact on young people’s lives. I was lucky. I was taught by a very special teacher, at the outset of his distinguished career, the late great Ted Wragg, TES columnist and teachers’ hero for two decades. It’s not always teachers of course.

Some non-educationalists have far greater influence than any of us teachers. Hundreds of local youngsters have developed a life-long love for brass band music, thanks to Tewit Band’s Colin Gibbs, awarded the BEM in the recent honours list.

Great news!