Welcome to your May issue. I do hope you and your family are keeping safe and well during these difficult times. Although the Prime Minister has announced that certain year groups can return to school from 1 June, there is still much uncertainty around this and many of the other changes his government has recommended. So, in this issue we’ll do our best to clarify the things that can be clarified – and give you some tips to help with any areas where we may not get clarity for some time.
Which year groups will return first and why?
The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said that primary schools should aim to re-open their doors to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from 1 June, with secondary schools welcoming back Year 10 and Year 12 students next month too. The UK government has produced guidance for all UK schools: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-schools-and-other-educational-settings which focuses primarily on keeping class sizes low and hygiene practices strict. In reality, mitigating risk for pupils and their teachers will look different for each school. But for many, social distancing between pupils can only be achieved through a rota system with pupils returning part-time initially.
Lower risk versus greater benefit
These year groups are being prioritised, according to the UK government, because missing school for long periods of time is more likely to be detrimental to their long-term education. Combined with this driver is the scientific evidence that suggests children are less likely to become seriously unwell should they contract Covid-19. According to HMRC, “there is high scientific confidence that children of all ages have less severe symptoms than adults… and there is moderately high scientific confidence that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected…”
Age group split a mixed blessing
In our experience – and judging by your feedback – children aged 4 to 6 are less likely to be struggling with self-isolation than their older siblings. Many young children are loving the lockdown; pleased with the prospect of no school and enjoying spending time with their parents. For some, the increase in one-to-one supervision has seen an improvement in areas such as handwriting and mental arithmetic. But the element of education that suffers most for this cohort is the opportunity to interact with their peers and teachers – a crucial part of learning at this age.
For children in Years 2 to 5 – and 7 to 9 – the delay in returning to school is a mixed blessing. This wide-ranging age group includes young teenagers desperate to see their friends again and six-year-olds who are more than happy to continue ‘homeschooling’ without the structure and social discipline that school demands.
We’ll talk a bit more about these year groups shortly and consider how you can help your child cope with social separation and prepare them for the return to school. First we’ll look at the students whose educational career has been arguably most disrupted by the pandemic: those in Years 11 and 13 who had been preparing to take GCSEs and A Levels this summer.
GCSE and A Level ‘results’
The UK government has confirmed that A Level and GCSE ‘results’ will be published on the original dates as planned: 13 August and 20 August respectively.
But instead of sitting exams, students’ grades will be decided through a combination of other factors. Exam boards are collecting predicted grades from teachers, who will base their prediction on “an overall professional judgement, using the evidence of previous exams, coursework, essays, homework and mock exams” (BBC website). Students’ work will then be moderated in much the same way that coursework is every year, to ensure that “overall national results and shares of grades are in line with previous years.”
Preparing for the next stage
During this very unusual summer term, the approach between UK independent schools varies hugely. Some continue to teach and test GCSE and A-level students before awarding final grades. Others are confident they have all the information they need to award the grades and these pupils have few ‘official’ assignments to complete. A word to the wise though: whilst the second part of the summer term is always a quieter time for those sitting exams – and this year may seem no different in that respect, despite the absence of exams – our advice to prospective sixth formers and university students remains the same. To keep your education on track and fulfil your potential in all areas of life, use your time wisely to read around the subjects you plan to study at the next stage, whether that’s A Levels or university.
And, as we mentioned in our April blog, all students will have the option to sit an exam in the autumn. This could be especially beneficial for students who believe their predicted grade was below what they think they could achieve. Your child’s school will be able to advise, but if you need any additional help or advice about predicted grades and whether your child could improve on theirs, talk to us about tutoring or an in-depth consultation about your child’s learning preferences, academic potential and future plans.
It’s still unclear whether UK universities will re-open for the start of the academic year this autumn – or whether they will continue to teach online for the time being. However, Cambridge is the first university to announce that all lectures for the 2020-21 academic year will take place online. It has reserved judgment on tutorials, suggesting in the Guardian on 19 May that “it may be possible for smaller teaching groups to take place in person” if attendees were to adhere to social distancing guidelines. It’s likely that other universities will follow suit now this precedent has been set, especially as the higher education regulator, Office for Students (OfS), has said that prospective students need to know what to expect before they accept a university’s offer.
Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/19/cambridge-university-moves-all-lectures-online-until-summer-2021 and on the BBC news website: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52732814
For students currently in Year 12 – part of the cohort the UK government advises to return to school on 1 June – you can now use UCAS’ online tool to search for degree courses starting in 2021. You can also register for and begin your UCAS undergraduate application from 19 May 2020, although you won’t be able to submit it until 8 September at the earliest.
Embracing online education
For parents who may have had to become educators during lockdown, it’ll come as no surprise that online learning suits some children better than others. Some children will really miss the face-to-face interaction with teachers and peers. For those whose learning style favours discussion over reading and reflection, simply having access to notes and essay ideas online is unlikely to stimulate interest or learning. Most schools will be flexible and offer various types of remote teaching, ranging from links to recommended reading to fully interactive class discussions over group video call. One benefit to being a teen in these times is that communicating over video has become a social norm for many. For shyer pupils, who rarely spoke up in class discussions, it can, however, be even harder to make a point or ask a question in a large group video call. But many teachers are supplementing class calls with smaller breakout groups or discussion, or even offering one-to-one video call time with students who prefer this approach. If your school isn’t offering this, but you think it would suit your child, it’s worth speaking to teachers to see what you can arrange. Alternatively, talk to us if you’d like one-to-one support for your child, either subject-specific tuition, or just a more general chat about online learning and what might be helpful for them and you right now.
Start with social – move to educational
Whether or not your child is in the age groups earmarked to return to school on 1 June, and whether year groups beyond these first five get the chance to go back before mid-July, we’ll all have the long summer break to contend with. For some pupils that will mean 24 weeks of no formal, face-to-face lessons in a school environment. So it is important to find the best way to embrace online education and social interaction – not least because the consensus is that many education establishments and work places will continue to operate more remotely and with a greater reliance on the internet than ever before.
For children under 10, whether or not they’re due to return to school on 1 June, it’s worth encouraging them to embrace video call applications like Zoom in larger groups as well as one-to-one. Video calls help keep younger children in touch with their friends and enable them to keep up some of the practices that allow good social etiquette, for example: taking turns for remote ‘show and tell’. Maybe even peer marking for assignments they’ve worked on over the holidays, whether that’s discussing a story someone’s written, or listening to a song they’ve performed or even analysing a logical problem and finding a solution together. If you’re in touch with other parents, you don’t need to wait for teachers to suggest virtual get togethers; why not arrange some amongst yourselves? These less formal gatherings can be just as beneficial for the kids. For some they could be the catalyst for engaging with online education because they emerge from these interactions uplifted rather than intimidated.
A new normal
Many people in the workplace have commented on how companies who formerly eschewed remote working have been forced to trust employees and have seen productivity increase as a result. In all areas of the economy, technology will be called upon to help us thrive in a post-pandemic world. Retailers may embrace virtual reality to recreate a shopping experience for people who prefer to shop online; businesses are encouraging ‘virtual’ breakfasts and tea breaks in an attempt to replicate the type of unprompted ‘water cooler’ moments where colleagues chat and form the ideas and connections that can underpin commercial success. In the education sector, the sudden and almost complete reliance on technology forced by the pandemic could lead to far more agile and personalised learning for all ages.
According to Ismail Amla, chief growth officer at Capita Consulting, “kids could get targeted, tailored content curated by artificial intelligence to both their interests and their ability level… instead of sitting in a physical or virtual classroom watching the same lesson as 30 others.” (Source: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/covid-19-work-new-normal-capita)
Put like that, it can only be a good thing. The good news for technophobes is that the teachers at the UK’s top independent schools already have the skills and resources to provide this level of personalised content for their pupils – whether that’s in person or remotely. The key challenge for parents, pupils and teachers right now is to support our young people to get the most they can from technology to optimise their learning in all areas of life. That is admittedly no mean feat. If you’d like help or advice to achieve this then please get in touch for a no-obligation chat about how we might be able to help.
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