Updates from the Principal
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE : 26th FEBRUARY 2021
As part of the government’s roadmap announcements, the Secretary of State for Education has now released the arrangements for awarding GCSE and A Level grades in the summer. You can read about these arrangements by following this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/teacher-assessed-grades-for-students I was personally surprised that national, external assessments or ‘mini-exams’ have not been made mandatory. Instead, they are being produced as resources which teachers can choose to use, if they want to, as part of a rounded portfolio of assessment evidence.
At the moment, we have not yet finalised the approach that EDA will take in order provide students with the grades that they deserve. Indeed, there is a lot of educational debate at the moment about the importance of schools putting students through some kind of formal examination process before the end of the year, to help prepare them for the demands of the next stage of their education. And although I agree with this, it is important to note that any use of examinations this year would need to be carefully governed by these two key principles:
- The primary purpose of any examinations should be to give students opportunities to positively showcase their knowledge, understanding and skills, based on topics that have been taught properly. There should not be any risk of students being ‘tripped up’ by having to answer questions on topics that have not been covered properly because of lockdown disruption.
- Any formal examinations this year should simply contribute to a well-rounded and fair portfolio of assessment evidence (i.e exams should not be the only things used to generate the grades.)
As aforementioned, we have not yet finalised the way in which we will generate the grades because the Secretary of State’s announcement was only made yesterday. However, as soon as we have something meaningful and concrete to share with you, will endeavour to communicate in a timely way.
Talking of “communicating in a timely way,” Mr. Walklate will be sharing our re-opening plans on Monday 1st March. And, as I said in my previous update, this should give you and your children plenty of time to remind yourselves of the tried and trusted Covid-secure protocols that will remain and to familiarise yourselves with any new protocols that we have had to implement.
Finally, our re-opening plans will have to involve the testing of all children upon their return, which is a hugely challenging (and some would say unfair) expectation that the government has placed upon schools. However, we will carry out the testing to the best of our ability and it will be another example of teamwork at its best. And I would like to finish this update by saying a massive THANK YOU to the huge number of parental and community volunteers who have responded to our request for help with scaling-up our testing programme. We continue to be genuinely touched and inspired by your overwhelming support and encouragement.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 23rd FEBRUARY
As you are all aware, the eagerly-anticipated Roadmap out of Lockdown was shared with the nation last night, which included key dates and detailed operational guidance about the re-opening of schools. This detailed guidance ran to 67 pages and please be assured that EDA’s senior leadership team have already read it carefully at least twice! Also, please be assured that we will be meeting throughout the week to ensure that EDA’s full re-opening plans are fully compliant with this national guidance. We will not be in a position to share our re-opening plans until early next week, but until then, there are 3 elements of it that I would like to draw your attention to:
- All students will be returning during w/b 8th March.
- It will be a staggered return, with different year groups returning on different days during that week.
- Upon their return, all students will have a Lateral Flow Test, followed by two more in the subsequent two weeks.
As aforementioned, we will be sharing our full re-opening plans early next week. This will give you and your children plenty of time to remind yourselves of the tried and trusted Covid-secure protocols that will remain and to familiarise yourselves with any new protocols that we have to implement.
I think that the full re-opening of schools will prove to be an extremely good test of the extent to which the vaccination programme is working in reducing transmission, hospitalisations and death rates in the community. Like everyone, I am hoping that the data which follows the re-opening of schools will allow the next steps of the roadmap to be followed, towards the lifting of all restrictions on June 12th. However, until we reach that point, please be assured that EDA’s incredibly dedicated staff will do everything possible, within and beyond the perameters of the national guidance, to keep all colleagues, students and visitors as safe as possible.
There were three things that the Prime Minister said last night which I hope prove to be true:
-The roadmap out of lockdown is intended to be irreversible.
-The end is in sight.
-The spring and summer will be incomparably better than what we are experiencing now.
And as we embark upon this crucial journey, through what we hope proves to be an ‘incomparably better spring and summer,’ I would like to thank all of our parents and carers, yet again, for your incredible, ongoing, unswerving support. It is much needed and hugely appreciated. We are all in this together and we will come through this together, whatever the next few months throw at us.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 11TH FEBRUARY
At the end of yet another remarkably challenging half-term, I would like to share a few thoughts and key pieces of information, which I’ve categorised under the headings of “Things We Don’t Know Just Yet…” and “Things we Do Know”
Things We Don’t Know Just Yet…
1. Exactly how and when schools will begin to re-open.
The Prime Minister has been consistent with his messaging on this particular topic; that March 8th will be the earliest that schools will begin to re-open. However, even though there has been a lot of speculation about primary schools and GCSE & A Level students returning first, we don’t know this for certain just yet. HOWEVER, we should get some clear guidance during w/b 22nd February when the Prime Minister shares his eagerly-anticipated ‘roadmap out of lockdown.’
2. Exactly how GCSE and A Level grades will be calculated this summer.
The consultation on this matter ended on 29th January. And, throughout the consultation period, we have been led to believe that teacher assessments will be central to the grade calculation process. However, we still don’t know the extent to which some form of national, external assessments will be used to help subject teachers make accurate, rounded and fair judgements of pupil standards. Again, we should receive some detailed, concrete guidance during w/b 22nd February when it appears that the results of the consultation will be shared as part of the aforementioned ‘roadmap’ announcements.
Things We Definitely Do Know
1. EDA students and their families are amazing!
The level of engagement of our students with regard to their remote learning has been incredibly encouraging. And the personal qualities that our young people have shown, when engaging with their teachers and with fellow pupils online, has been inspiring and heart-warming; Resilience, determination, gratitude, friendliness and compassion have all been abundantly evident on a daily basis. Without wanting to give Mr. Walklate too much credit for his social media activity, our students have been truly #EDAtastic!
Furthermore, I fully appreciate that parents and carers have been working incredibly closely and proactively with the Academy to maximise the engagement and learning of our young people and this has made a hugely positive impact.
I think it is fair to say that the success of our remote educational provision this half-term has been a real team effort, with our students, supported brilliantly by their parents/carers, playing a crucial role in this success
2. EDA staff and governors are amazing!
I find it difficult to put into words how proud and grateful I am to have the staff body that we have at EDA. After yet another half-term of moving goalposts, shifting sand and unprecedented challenges, our staff have taken adaptability and resilience to another level. Indeed, they have made “going the extra mile” the norm in their everyday dealings with students and colleagues. They have been truly inspirational.
In the last half-term, it is mind-blowing to think how we have managed to provide such high quality remote provision in the following areas: Lessons, formal assessment opportunities, Parents’ Consultation Evenings, our Options Evening, our 6th Form Showcase Event, 6th Form interviews, careers interviews, university application support, general pastoral and wellbeing support – and much more. Compared to other schools, we have done remarkably well in the way that we have operated remotely and that is down to the calibre and commitment of EDA staff. It may sound clichéd when I say this, but it’s true; I would not swap the staff of EDA for the staff of any other secondary school. Our staff really are second to none and I would like to think that our students and parents recognise this.
And at this point I need to mention our governors. With all the big decisions and strategic plans that the Senior Leadership Team have to make and review on a continual basis, we are lucky to have such an experienced and strong governing body to report to. I have recently had a headteacher ask me on several occasions if she could swap her governing body for ours! And she said this (tongue-in cheek but actually meaning it) because she can see that our governors ‘get it.’ i.e They want what’s best for our students and staff and they are able to provide the necessary challenge and support to try and achieve the best possible outcomes, even in the most challenging of circumstances.
And so to all of our students, staff, parents/carers and governors, a huge THANK YOU for the way in which you have played your part in helping EDA respond to the continual challenges of this pandemic so successfully. The pandemic continues to remind us to appreciate each other and that we actually need each other (maybe more than we realise) in order to thrive in life. And whatever the rest of the academic year brings, I am confident that we will be mindful of this as we continue to work together.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 27TH JANUARY
On 8th January, Geoff Barton, the president of ASCL (the headteachers’ union) said this about the government: “In short, this is a top-down government. It thinks it knows better than teachers and leaders about what constitutes high-quality education; it seems to believe that inspectors know more about remote learning than the good people actually trying to make it happen, day in, day out, in our schools.” However, last Friday, Mr. Barton said this: “I’m pleased to report that discussions with politicians and officials are now showing a more positive, collaborative approach. Whilst the actual date of wider opening isn’t known, at least a sense of working towards the semblance of a coherent opening plan is now happening.”
Earlier this afternoon, the Prime Minister gave us an actual date to consider; 8th March, which is the earliest point at which the re-opening of schools might begin to happen. And maybe, just maybe, this time there will be a sensible, calm, properly planned and clearly communicated re-opening of schools, which takes into account the advice of those who know best.
I try not to get political when I write these updates (even though I find it incredibly difficult.) However, I have to say that I think it is absolutely ludicrous that schools remain closed whilst borders remain open. Like the vast majority of those who work in schools, I am desperate for our schools to re-open as soon, as fully and as safely as possible. And I have recently received some information which could prove to be a positive step towards this; In essence I have been asked by the Local Authority to nominate staff who might be eligible for the vaccination programme. According to guidance issued from the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations) via the Local Authority, eligible staff are currently:
1.Those staff (learning support staff and teachers) who have to have close contact with the following children, during a typical week, in order to meet their needs:
a) Children who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
b) Those who have underlying health conditions leading to a greater risk of disease or mortality.
2.Those staff who are involved in running the school’s Lateral Flow Testing programme. (Our community volunteers can also be included.)
The intention is for the Local Authority to offer vaccines to all eligible staff, but there will be spot-checks from the LA to ensure that schools are not falsifying information in order to artificially inflate the numbers of staff that can vaccinated. HOWEVER, within the parameters of the agreed criteria, I will endeavour to maximise the number of our staff which can be classed as eligible.
In my humble opinion, the common sense approach would have been to prioritise all staff who work in educational settings for vaccinations between now and Easter. However, instead, we have a complicated set of potentially divisive criteria, which may well change on numerous occasions in the next few days or weeks. HOWEVER, at least this appears to be the beginning of the roll-out of vaccinations to educational staff, which is a welcome and significant step towards the aim of re-opening schools as safely as possible.
As always, thank you for being incredible parents and carers and please take care.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 20TH JANUARY
One of the many fantastic things about working in education is the variety. No two days are ever the same and you really experience the full range of emotions on a daily basis. On some occasions, your emotions can fluctuate wildly from hour to hour… and this morning was one such occasion:
At 8am I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride when I saw our wonderful community volunteers running all 10 of our testing bays (giving us full testing capacity) being supported and assisted by dedicated EDA staff. The scene was a resounding confirmation that the hours of online training and laborious preparations had been worth it.
At 10.30am I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration when I read a letter from the Secretary of State for Education, officially telling all Secondary Schools, in a nutshell, that Lateral Flow Tests aren’t as good as we were led to believe and so ‘contact testing’ should not be carried out after all!
Once I had calmed down, stopped chuntering (as they say in Stoke) and looked into this in more detail, it transpires that testing will still actually have an important role to play in keeping schools safe. This is because the regular screening of staff and students can continue , via weekly or twice-weekly tests, to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus. The only kind of testing which will not be allowed in schools is ‘7-day repeat testing’ as an alternative to self-isolation for someone who has had close contact with a positive case. Therefore, from now on and with immediate effect, anyone who has close contact with a positive case will have to revert to self-isolating for 10 days.
The consultation about the awarding of GCSE and A Level grades is now underway and everything we know so far was communicated to the parents of Y11 and Y13 students in Monday’s joint letter from myself and Mr. Walklate. Frustratingly, until the Secretary of State gives his official directives after the consultation period, we don’t know exactly what our teachers will be expected or allowed to do to support our students and it would be wrong to try and second-guess Mr. Williamson’s decision-making at this moment in time. When his official directives are given, there are two crucial issues which I hope are addressed clearly:
1. The weighting and importance that is placed on the external mini-exams; In other words, will the moderated results of these tests, which our teachers mark, simply become the grades that are awarded… OR will teachers be allowed to use the use the test as part of a broad, well-rounded portfolio of assessed work?
2.The extent to which teacher assessments may be interfered with and changed (via a moderation process or – day I say it – an algorithm of some description.)
Finally, there is growing talk about when and how schools will begin to re-open. The only thing I can say on this matter at the moment is that no-one in education, whom I speak to on a regular basis, has any secret knowledge or inside information about this. I simply assume that we will be given very little time to plan for it when the decision is eventually made…but we are used to that by now.
Mr. Walklate will touch upon these issues, amongst other things, in his weekly blog that will be sent to you on Friday.
Take care and thank you for your ongoing support,
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 14th JANUARY
In the world of education, two significant letters were sent and received yesterday:
The Secretary of State for Education sent a letter to the Head of Ofqual (the organisation which sets the rules and regulations for national assessments and qualifications.) In this letter, he explained his vision for the awarding of GCSE and A Level grades in the summer and asked Ofqual to co-ordinate a consultation on this crucial issue. His letter clearly explains that moderated, external national tests, to support teacher assessments, is a central theme of his thinking. If you would like to read a selection of extracts from his letter which confirm this, click here. If you would like to read the full letter, click here.
The Head of Ofqual responded by writing a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, which contained some of his thoughts on possible arrangements for awarding GCSE and A Levels this year. And, his letter clearly mentions that the use of “mini-exams” have been a firm part of Ofqual’s “advanced thinking” for a while. Please click here if you like to read a selection of extracts which confirm this. Alternatively, if you would like to read the full letter, please click here.
The consultation is expected to last two weeks, after which The Secretary of State for Education will analyse the results of the consultation and then give directions about what exactly should happen in the summer. At this point, nothing is confirmed but we do seem to be moving towards some form of national, external testing arrangements. It is, however, important to note that any tests will only be part of the teacher assessment process and we may have to provide other evidence of students’ academic standards. This may include some form of mock examinations, which is why, at this moment in time, they are still going ahead.
Therefore, taking all of the above into consideration, I want to repeat myself for the third time in a week, by urging all students to keep on working as hard as possible in all subject areas in the spring and summer terms, as this will have a direct bearing on final grades.
Mr. Walklate will address the above issues, amongst others, in his weekly blog which you will be sent tomorrow.
With regards to our mass testing regime, we are operating at full steam and the number of tests that we have completed now runs into the hundreds. And, as well as our own staff and students, we are regularly testing the staff of an increasing number of primary schools and nurseries in the local area. When you consider that far higher proportions of pupils are attending primary schools and nurseries when compared to secondary schools – and that younger students find it harder to maintain social distancing – it is ludicrous that testing has not yet been introduced into these settings. Therefore, until the government facilitates this, we will continue to do the right thing and test as many primary and early years colleagues as we possibly can.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy
PRINCIPAL’S UPDATE: 12TH JANUARY
As I mentioned in my update last Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Education announced that GCSEs and A Levels won’t go ahead this summer, with the government planning to put their trust “in teacher assessments, not algorithms.” And since then, there has been significant educational chatter about the likelihood that teacher assessments may incorporate the outcomes of “mini exams.” At the time of writing this update, the most reliable and up-to-date sources appear to say that these mini-exams, if they materialise, will be:
- Written and produced by exam boards.
- Sat late in the summer term (when COVID rates have hopefully declined.)
- Marked by teachers.
- Moderated by exam boards.
Although no formal consultation has taken place and these “mini-exam” arrangements have not been officially confirmed yet, it seems clear that the process for awarding grades this summer will be more rigorous than last year and will try to involve some element of regulated national testing. And this only serves to reinforce the message that I communicated last week; that all work completed in all subject areas in the spring and summer terms will have a direct bearing on students’ final grades. Therefore, they need to keep on working as hard as possible.
And it is not just Year 11 and Year 13 students who need to work as hard as possible whilst remote learning continues. All students in all year groups need to embrace remote learning as a valid and powerful alternative to face-to-face provision and show determination to make as much progress as possible. We are monitoring student engagement carefully and we are incredibly pleased with the way in which the vast majority of students are working remotely. HOWEVER, for those parents who get contacted by the Academy because their child
isn’t engaging satisfactorily, please do everything in your power, in partnership with the Academy, to improve the situation. Young people only have one chance at an education and the harsh reality is that remote provision has quickly become a significant element of it. Therefore, every student needs to engage in every lesson every day whilst they are being educated remotely. Failure to do this could cause untold damage to their future life-chances.
Last week I thanked the huge number of parents who had sent messages of support and gratitude to our staff for trying to provide the best possible remote learning experience for children in all year groups. Well, this week, I would like to thank those parents who contacted Ofsted, the recently-appointed ‘remote learning enforcers’ to tell them that we are doing an amazing job and that no enforcement of any kind is necessary!!!
As always, I am immensely grateful for the support and understanding of EDA parents and I would like to reiterate that Mr. Walklate and I will continue to try and keep you informed about important issues in a timely way.
Principal, Erasmus Darwin Academy