Speaking at this week’s Festival of Education, education secretary Gavin Williamson highlighted the importance of good behaviour management in schools and strong multi-academy trusts, while paying tribute to teachers and staff for their dedication throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
Discussing the government’s plans to ‘build back better’ from the Covid-19 pandemic in the context of education, Williamson explained that improving outcomes for young people across the UK would be a central pillar of this agenda.
He added that the government would level up opportunities for young people in the UK through robust multi-academy trusts, high-quality teacher training, effective behaviour management and investment to help pupils catch up on lost education over the previous year.
Williamson said: “We are just as determined as ever to make sure that every child gets the world-class start in life that we expect and that they deserve.
“I want to be clear - improving outcomes for pupils is our number one priority and as we build back better from Covid, it’s more critical than it has ever been.
“Our leading academy trusts and free schools now deliver an unrivalled education…but we must go further and faster if we are to complete the revolution, end the postcode lottery and truly level up the whole nation.”
The education secretary also used his speech to confirm that a consultation on changes to guidance on behaviour, discipline and exclusions would be set out later in 2021, reiterated the importance of good behaviour and calls he has previously made for the banning of mobile phones during the school day.
His address at the Festival Education on Wednesday [June 16] followed an announcement in which the government set it would boost high-quality tutoring to help pupil’s catch up on lost learning, which has already received over £3 billion of investment to date.
In consideration of how the pandemic has affected the development of younger children, Williamson revealed that an exceptional Year 2 phonics screening check would be carried out in the autumn term to help younger pupils ground themselves in the basics of reading, with primary assessments to be brought back in full over the next year.
The education secretary was also full of praise for the work of teachers and staff in the sector over the course of the health crisis, who have gone above and beyond to ensure that children have been able to learn over the last year.
One of these is Beverley Hanks, headteacher of New Hall Primary School in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands. Despite operating in an area of high deprivation rates and with Pupil Premium funding sitting at double the national average, the school defied the odds pre-pandemic with the attainment levels of its pupils, proudly sitting above the national average across EYFS, phonics in year 1, year 2 and year 6 SATs.
Hanks told The Parliamentary Review: “The impact of the coronavirus has made its presence felt this year for all schools across the country. With very little preparation time, we have continued to help and support our community by keeping learning alive. Extraordinary times calls for extraordinary people and actions. This is what we have at New Hall, a huge effort from the whole team, from ensuring the school is safe, by providing key worker and vulnerable places for our pupils through to high-quality remote education.”
Echoing the educations secretary’s words on the importance of reading, Janice Stobbs, headteacher of Toft Hill Primary School in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, has ensured that her school have been encouraging pupils to continue to read during the lockdown period.
Stobbs explained: “The fact our staff are willing to work closely with the parents has been particularly valuable during the lockdown. The importance of the home environment in fostering a love of reading is recognised here, and we continue to work hard to make reading accessible for all our parents and carers as well as our pupils.
“Some parents did not see the value in expecting their children to read at home, while others struggled to provide the right kind of support. Thankfully, our staff have been really creative in the way they offer our parents support.
“Nothing is insurmountable, and I am really proud of the work of my staff and students over the past 12 months. This is an ever-changing process, but we remain confident in the methods that we have put in place to keep our children happy, motivated and reading.”
Li-Juan Ellerton, headteacher of Waltham St Lawrence Primary School in Berkshire, which has experienced its own struggles during the pandemic, has also strived along with her senior leadership team to keep pupils on the right track and ensure that as little education is lost as possible.
Ellerton said: “Despite the unprecedented nature of Covid-19, we have taken every measure possible to keep our pupils on the right track, whether that means embracing technology or abiding by social distancing.
“Our parents have played a valuable part during the enforced lockdown and helped us to manage this difficult time. Training our staff in how to get the most out of the technology at their disposal has been crucial, and it fills me with confidence that we are now better equipped than ever to handle the challenges that we may face in the future. We have learned which techniques work effectively and which do not, and it is this constant pursuit of knowledge and improvement that will continue to stand us in good stead for the future.”
During the Festival of Education, Williamson also provided some certainty for secondary education by confirming that exams are to go ahead in 2022. Plans are currently in the pipeline to guarantee fair grading and reinstate confidence that teacher-determined grades reflect the abilities of young people and the work they have put into their education over the years.