'Only teach maths and English? That's not an education'

Ruth Luzmore says pupils will only catch up on lost learning if they continue to receive a well-rounded and thought-provoking school experience

Ruth Luzmore

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"Ay caramba!" Bart Simpson’s catchphrase was the accompanying text sent to me with the link to the latest set of leaks on how schools will have to reopen in September.

The link appears to have quickly circulated around my headteacher friends with a variety of responses – calls to arms, calls to quit, calls to wine. 

So, what’s the fuss about? The report details bubbles of varying sizes, staggered starts, fines; some dig at behaviour (by the way, parents, the pupils round here have been incredible in their return), etc. 

So far, so predictable. But then came this bullet point:

"Some subjects for some or all pupils may have to be suspended for two terms to allow catch-up on core subjects such as English and maths, with a full spread of subjects returning in the summer term of 2021."

I was so taken aback that I didn’t even get to the paragraph about suspended Ofsted inspections until I'd recovered – and thankfully, that is a sensible idea.

Broad and balanced  

Mandating a reduction of curriculum offer seems like a knee-jerk reaction based on a simplistic idea of "saturate them with more English and maths and they will catch up". 

But I thought we all agreed that curriculum needs to be broad and balanced and deep and rich and overflowing with cultural and disciplinary knowledge and vocabulary and carefully planned and embedded in the heart and soul of our schools?

Weren’t we now just fighting over what content we teach and how? And what a worthwhile fight that is, too.

Let me offer an example. In our school, our Year 5 and 6 pupils spend half a day a week in rehearsals for an entire term with professional actors and dancers, working to put on a Shakespeare production. 

When I joined as a new headteacher and inherited this, I was apprehensive. Shouldn’t we be using this time for extra Sats practice? How will they get good end-of-year grades if we don’t devote more time to English and maths? 

But I was wrong. 

The richness of education

The pupils have gained so much from this time in terms of their knowledge. Spending time interrogating unfamiliar language, looking at character, plot, studying and replicating movement, understanding the human condition. 

We are so proud of our curriculum and, like others, continue to work hard tweaking it – we want to go above and beyond. 

We have protected time in the weekly timetable for all classes to experience languages (Spanish, French or Mandarin), PE, RE, music as well as our transdisciplinary themes.

Yes, it is hard to fit it all in, but we do it and manage to get above-average results in English and maths.

I believe that the pursuit and insistence on delivering excellence in every part of our curriculum is what will help our pupils "recover". 

We won't give up

Of course, we will identify and plug the gaps that are there. And it is going to be challenging, but hasn’t it always been so? 

We know all about intervention and catch-up, and hopefully will have more resources available for us to do this. 

So let’s acknowledge that, yes, it is going to take some time and that there may need to be changes to our assessment system in the immediate future to reflect that. 

But with the time, space, support and resources, schools will make this happen. Trust us to get this right for our communities.

Ruth Luzmore is headteacher at St Mary Magdalene Academy. She tweets @RLuzmore

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