Managing assessment and feedback during a pandemic – failing safe is a great plan.

As our Lent Term 2021 gets firmly underway, our remote learning provision at Claires Court seems to have eased through the gears without too many difficulties. As #clairescourt settles into the groove of the weekly cut&mow, here’s the elements in the wider landscape we are having to contend with.

1. Lateral Flow testing is up and running, both for checking students on their return (in due course) and for on-going monitoring of teaching and support staff. What’s the problem:
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/medicines-and-healthcare-products-regulatory-agency are the people licencing the use of both vaccines and coronavirus testing kist in the country.
As you’ll recall, the government are sending to all schools LTFs both for initial screening and on-going screening for staff and daily testing for pupils who might have been compromised by contact with the virus. It’s a key component in their strategy, to keep students at school most of the time. Well, what’s emerged over the past 48 hours is the MHRA refuses the use of LTFs for daily usage in schools, taking the view that such tests give spurious and ill-deserved confidence. Now this is particualrly interesting to independent schools because the DfE have confirmed (in response to a Commons Written Question) that they are not able to extend funding to independent schools and colleges with fee-paying individuals to ensure that children educated in the private sector have access to mass covid-19 testing, for this specific purpose. We have our own secure supply of LFTs available now, but it is interesting to consider what happens when DfE says ‘swipe&test’ and MHRA says ‘don’t bother’!

2. Summer Public Examinations. Having made it quite clear that there were to be no public exams for A levels and GCSEs, the Secretary of State for Education has been backpedalling massively, not least because he recognises that independent schools make use of international exam bodies (not in his care) who intend to continue with such exams if conditions permit. Gavin Williamson now finds himself between a rock and many hard places, so has decided (as he did last year) to suggest actually that Ofqual are going to run a consultation to see what’s best for the country, that consultation was published today, and a commentary from SchoolsWeek can be found here – https://schoolsweek.co.uk/ofqual-publishes-2021-summer-exams-consultation/#:~:text=The%20exams%20regulator%20Ofqual%20has,2021%20amid%20partial%20school%20closures. In short, as I have already made clear internally, our own exam students have no excuse not to take the exams, as they have neither lost teaching time nor missed work. Whatever they are facing is being trimmed back, to be announced in March. In the meantime, keep working, studying, learning and revising – that’s how we gather the combination of knowledge and skills needed anyway.

3.The title of this blog suggests that information and feedback is always valuable. Friday mornings for headteachers and school secretaries and Friday afternoons for Marketing are spent getting our weekly bulletins ready to roll out at the close of day. One of the leading communicators in the UK education space, Ross Morrison McGill (@teachertoolkit) wrote his blog this week entitled “https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2021/01/12/why-nobody-reads-your-school-newsletter/”. He suggest the blog is a 3 minute read, but it’s certainly more than that, and its key points are that we (the school) should be tracking you (the reader) with very great care, to spot actually whether you are opening up our communications at all, and by analysing the data, adjust our communications strategy accordingly.
There’s more than a whiff of ‘Big Brother’ in his suggestions, and I am most uncomfortable with the general ideas that parents would expect their readership to be tracked.

For the time being at least, we will get on with doing the best things we can, communicating effectively in advance as well as just in time, so that the breadth of our readership’s habits are accommodated with integrity and compassion. I know how busy parents are, but knowing that there is always a default bulletin there in your intray permits you to know we have ‘failed safe’ for you.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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