Head says ‘best’ schools raised bar for online learning

Leading independent school head says the lockdown response of the ‘best private and state schools’ helped secure better remote learning for all pupils

Catherine Lough

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A leading private school headteacher has said that the remote learning provided by the best independent and state schools at the start of the Covid crisis led to better online learning for all pupils in the second lockdown.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – a body of leading private schools – incoming chair Richard Backhouse highlighted the work of its members at the onset of the pandemic.

He said: “I think it is important to acknowledge that the speed with which HMC schools pivoted to online learning in March 2020 was exemplary.


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“I believe that the quality of the provision established in the best schools – state and private – created a pressure for all schools to make good provision for pupils in later lockdowns,” Mr Backhouse added.

“I am convinced that the performance of the strongest in lockdown one led to a much more prescriptive stance from the Department for Education when schools were locked down for a second time in January 2021.”

Mr Backhouse said that while the government had sought to take credit for improved online provision during the second lockdown, “the leadership shown by headteachers demonstrated what was possible to the sector, and therefore raised the bar for all”.

And he added that headteachers had shown what could be done in education to fill a “void” of leadership from the top.

“Collectively, headteachers across the sector filled in a void of leadership from the top, established what was possible, created a pathway for others to follow later by showing what could be done, and what therefore became mandatory in the second wave of school closures,” he said.

Mr Backhouse also criticised the government for using schools as a place to “dump problems that can’t be solved elsewhere”.

He cited a recent Tes story showing that 80 per cent of the public polled by YouGov think that parents should be held responsible for boys’ sexual misconduct and harassment, while 4 per cent thought teachers or headteachers should be held accountable for their boys’ behaviour.

“That polling is not reflected in a knee-jerk ‘send it to schools to solve’ reaction,” Mr Backhouse said. 

Mr Backhouse is the chair of HMC for the academic year (2021-22) and principal at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire.

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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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