Dear madam: letters to the editor 6/10/20

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss teacher training, SEND students and supply work

Tes Editorial

Tes letters to the editor 6/10/20: Teacher training, SEND students taking GCSE, supply teaching and employees picking up new skills

How will the current teaching students meet QTS standards?

My daughter is rightly concerned that she’s paying for a degree course that, if the QTS standards are to be met, won’t meet them.

The university seems oblivious to this, but before she takes this up with it, I’d like to establish where these current cohort of students stand. Is this happening with all the teaching degree providers/universities?

My daughter has just started her second year studying a primary education degree. She and her fellow students are extremely concerned with the lack of placements planned coming short of the standards required to gain QTS. They are also receiving only online lessons, of which the lectures are pre-recorded and the seminars are live.

They were pulled from their first seven-week placement due to Covid-19 in March and ended up doing only one week. They’d done a short two-week holistic placement in their first semester.

In year 2, there were meant to be two seven-week placements but students have now been told they’ll only have one seven-week placement in March 2021 and another in 2022 (their final year).

These are our future teachers; it seems absurd that they cannot get the experience in schools that are open. The schools would surely appreciate the unpaid help these students could give at the same time as giving them the learning experience and classroom time needed to gain QTS.

Are the standards going to be adjusted for this cohort?

P Watts

GCSE students with SEND need a safety net

The article about the possible scrapping of GCSEs gets a massive fingers crossed from me ("Scrap 'national disgrace' GCSEs, experts urge", 27 September). However, I doubt it will come soon enough to help the next set of candidates.

In a year that has seen a ridiculous level of disruption and disappointment, I had been in correspondence with the previous chair of Ofqual, who was interested and was engaging with my opinions as a parent of a child with ADHD and Asperger’s who is due to sit the 2021 GCSEs. 

Unfortunately, I have received blunt and unhelpful responses from the office of her successor.

I had written to Ofqual requesting that it offered a safety net to children who had a statement of educational needs (now called an education, health and care plan) or a diagnosed neurological disorder, so that when they sat their exams next year, the lowest grade possible would be their projected grade at the start of lockdown.

Many children with special educational needs and disabilities have been exponentially affected by lockdown. However, according to the new chairperson’s office, it is too difficult to  tell the degree of disadvantage, so they are doing nothing to protect the future of these children, who are the most vulnerable in our society.

My elder daughter, who doesn’t have SEND, found GCSEs extremely stressful, particularly as her year group had been the guinea pigs for the new 1-9 exams.  Seeing what she went through, and reading the statements about the paltry adjustments being made for the 2021 GCSE students, I find myself dreading next year even more than the virus itself.

My purpose in writing is to encourage others to add weight to my calls to add a safety net for next year’s GCSEs students who have a diagnosed neurological disorder, such as ADHD or Asperger’s (my son has both).

The usual adjustments for such children of a bit of extra exam time won’t do anything to bridge the gap between their lockdown experience and those of neurotypical children.  My son is at a good non-selective, mainstream comprehensive school but gets funding for a teaching assistant.  Without his TA for a term and a half of his GCSE education, how can Ofqual claim that it is just and fair that he receives no additional consideration for his exams?

Natalie Gettings
St Albans

How can I survive on supply work?

After a gruelling six months of school leadership during the Covid-19 response, I was delivered a sideswipe I had not anticipated: my role was made redundant.  Redundancy was a word I was aware of in other businesses, but I naively thought it was something I wouldn’t have to face in teaching.

My initial thought was to regroup, take a little time out to put myself back together and sign up to teaching supply agencies to pay the mortgage and bills and enjoy the benefits of flexible work.  The goal was to gain knowledge and insight into how other schools operate and gain experience after my long-term, all-consuming teaching roles for the past 25 years.  The goal was to turn this situation into an opportunity and not to allow myself to get downhearted.

The reality of signing up to a number of teaching supply agencies has been an eye-opening experience.  I am sure there are efficient supply agencies out there and I do give some allowance for current pressures, but I am in a state of shock and horror.  I proactively started the registration process in July and, as we move into October, I am only just being cleared for work in schools, despite providing all the relevant documentation, DBS checks, references and completing safeguarding courses (each agency requires its own one or two-hour online safeguarding course, which I dutifully and eagerly performed).  

Each of the four supply agencies I contacted had its own convoluted pathway to navigate and I have spoken to myriad personnel at each agency throughout the process, all giving me different advice and direction. I last did supply work 25 years ago when an NQT to fund my travels. This was in London and commanded inner London weighting, but I was earning the same daily rate as I am being offered today. Contractor friends in other industries, meanwhile, are earning big bucks with more flexibility and less responsibility. How are teachers being devalued to this extent without any kickback?   

I am left with few options. I am a single teacher and I don’t expect the big bucks, but I do have a need to cover my needs of shelter, warmth and food and the odd bottle of wine or gin to get me through the week. It would also be nice to be able to still keep a car running so I could get around for the longer commutes.

Do I take on supply work or take other roles requiring less skill and experience and make life easier for myself? Financially it is clear what I should do, but I’m a teacher – I want to get back in the classroom. I know how hard it is out there for all school staff and I want to help.

Name and address supplied

Employees need to be willing to learn new skills

The government’s new measures to boost employment opportunities in the post-Covid-19 economy are to be welcomed and will help to transform our skills system for the better. However, we must not solely focus on changing policies to be successful; we must also put great emphasis on changing employees' mindsets when it comes to addressing some of the systemic issues exacerbated by the pandemic (for example, the UK’s faltering productivity, widening skills gap and failing social mobility).

Worryingly, CIMA’s research in 2019 revealed that 37 per cent of UK workers didn’t feel that they needed to learn new skills, despite a growing awareness of the impact of technology on jobs. This complacency towards learning and development was a nagging issue prior to the coronavirus crisis but it has now become an acute problem for UK businesses and could hamper our long-term recovery.

If we are to get the economy back on its feet, remain competitive on the global scene and sustain growth, we must now invest wisely into developing a skilled, motivated workforce; think about changing the apprenticeship levy to an apprenticeship and skills levy for all workers to ensure that businesses have the talent they need now and in the future; continue to invest towards higher-level apprenticeships to raise the skill levels of the UK workforce; and introduce a rebuttable right to retrain to empower workers to request further training and development. If such measures are adopted, we might then really be able to drive real-wage growth, address social mobility and become a productive economy.

We are now at a crossroads – the choices we make now will make or break our success.

Andrew Harding
Chief executive – management accounting, CIMA (the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants)


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