Why Covid catch-up over the summer holidays won't work

We don't have either the funding or the desire to make longer school days or holiday teaching work, writes Jonny Kay

Jonny Kay

Covid-catch up: Why teachers working over the summer holidays or longer school days aren't the answer

With the teacher-assessed grades (TAG) and final assessment process for 2021 well under way, teachers, leaders, students, parents and carers are preparing themselves for a flurry of assessment activity over the next few months. 

Ofqual published its consultation response and confirmed its plan when it comes to the awarding of grades and final qualifications earlier this week, but we are still awaiting guidance from exam boards specifically. 

Most are in agreement: the process is a vast improvement on last year (if only because we have had some notice and some guidance); timescales for completing, marking and finalising assessments are tight and it remains to be seen how fair the TAG and final assessment process is.

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Additionally, the movement of results day to an earlier date has also created several challenges, including the expected attendance of teachers. Very few schools or colleges mandate that staff must attend results day, though the overwhelming majority of teachers do go in. However, with the potential for a significant number of appeals, staff will have a role to play on results day. As always, students will benefit from seeing familiar and trusted faces, and teachers will want to support their students. 

With this in mind, what is the expectation of teachers over the summer? Aside from supporting an earlier results day and giving guidance throughout the appeal process, it has also been suggested that teachers may be asked to complete interventions over the summer, with school days lengthened and summer holidays cut.

It is easy to see why there might be a clamour for more teaching: with additional funding allotted earlier in the year across education, intervention and catch-up sessions have occurred in settings of all shapes and sizes to support young people in “closing the gap”. As effective as this has been, it is no replacement for the months of lost learning that has occurred since March last year.

At first glance – and in the most simplistic terms – this does appear to be a solution: if any activity (face-to-face teaching; supporting students in person) has an obvious benefit, then surely increasing this activity will increase the benefit? Well, yes, if you’re working within set parameters with minimal variables.

And this is the problem. There are variables. Lots of them.

Covid catch-up: The problem with teaching over the summer holidays

Firstly, and most obviously, educational settings can’t force students or teachers to plan and attend sessions during the summer. Any sessions that did occur would likely have to be voluntary, and would be sparsely attended as a result.

A potential solution would be to pay staff for the intervention they complete, but with a pay increase for teachers denied earlier in the year (and the woeful 1 per cent for NHS staff), there is clearly not the funding for this. Also, this doesn’t solve the issue of student non-attendance (and to incentivise sessions would again take funding that doesn’t exist).

Even if students and teachers could be persuaded to do intervention over the summer, there is a reason why the holidays exist: both students and staff need to rest after the hardest year in generations. For all of the talk of “lazy teachers” in some newspapers, teachers consistently work the most unpaid overtime of any profession, meaning they regularly complete a 50-plus hour week. 2020-21 has not been easier for teachers or students – it has been significantly harder: teachers have taught online, in person and through hybrid models whilst caring for children, partners, family and each other. They need time to prepare for 2021-22.

Further mitigation against the above has been offered in the suggestion that trainee NQTs, teachers or supply teachers could be used to complete intervention. Again, this seems a clear and simple solution. However, one of the staples of good teaching is that teachers know their students. What is the point in completing intervention if teachers don’t know the students they are supporting? Again, we could ask teachers to prep, plan or create resources for these sessions, but this considerably adds to teacher workload.

This leaves us with lengthening the school day. Where is the funding for an additional five hours of teaching per week? What impact will this have on students (who will see their working week increase by 20 per cent)? The majority of readers will likely read through the above and hypothetically put the above into practice with key stage 3 and KS4 in mind. But what if it’s an eight-year-old completing a 9am to 4pm day, and that final hour is fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases? How much of that is likely to stick?

Ignoring all of the above and, like the rest of the country, with teachers and parents hurriedly arranging summer holidays, we should also ask: how strong is the desire for this style of “catch-up”?

Jonny Kay is the head of teaching and learning at a college in the North East. He tweets at @jonnykayteacher

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