Tag Archives: education

Trying to put the wheels back on the Inspiration Trust project

Ian Duckett – NEU

Norman King – GMB

Wendy Smith – Unite

 On behalf of East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group

On 29 June Dame Rachel De Souza wrote an article for the Eastern Daily Press, titled the ‘Norfolk Academy Trust reveals Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’.

Like all schools and academies the COVID19 pandemic has taken the wheels off Inspiration Trust’s  schools in Norwich and across Norfolk. In the article, Dame De Souza states that pupils will be returning early from the summer break to make up for lessons lost during lockdown in a desperate effort to put the wheels back on. We think that there is another road, an alternative route out of this pandemic that our schools could take and build for a better future.

We feel that this quest to reopen, particularly during a period when the Coronavirus is seen to be on the rise in some areas, in the middle of what promises to be a very busy holiday period for the region is irresponsible and short sighted in the extreme.  It is plain that hubs of infection are springing up from as close as Suffolk, and in Leicester where schools are currently closing.  During the “opening” period people from these regions will be flocking to our city and holiday destinations raising the level of risk.

We are quite sure that the fixed date return will cause huge anxiety among parents, carers, teachers and students and the wider community.  If one thing is certain, it is that we do not know what the infection rates are going to be in the future.

The coalition of parents and teachers – Parents and Teachers for Education (PTE) founded by chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, Dame De Souza, hardly inspires confidence since I feel they cannot represent the interests all concerned parents, teachers, students and the wider community.  Furthermore it is an organisation formed by the trust itself.

Of course we want to reopen schools and colleges as soon as we can. But this needs to be safe for society, for children and their families and the staff who work in them. We also would like to point out that schools never closed. They have been open during lockdown to provide education in a safe environment for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

The pre-conditions for a safe return to schools are: much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases; a proper negotiated plan agreed with unions for social distancing; testing, testing and more testing; whole school strategy and protection for the vulnerable. Have these tests been met? We are far from convinced that they have been. We would respectfully ask the Dame where the evidence is that the Inspiration Trust and the government has met the requirements of these criteria.

We also worry about Health and Safety Officers, who are direct employees of the trust, making these judgements. Are teachers being bullied into returning to work without adequate safeguards being in place?  Do they even know what is in place?  Have the teaching unions been involved in the discussion?

It is already known that some of the school buildings are barely suitable, being disused industrial units.  How is social distancing to be maintained in these circumstances? No doubt there is a huge amount of work to be done before schools can be reopened safely, in terms of the curriculum and the wider community with regards to containment of the virus.

However, Dame Rachel is right about one thing. There is a crisis. It is a crisis of identity and – equally one of survival – for many of our young people lost somewhere in a wilderness between education and social care. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this worse.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments stand out and are frightening: “there will be all sorts of problems in terms of social unrest, violence amongst young people that we’ve not seen before”.   This suggests that the purpose of our education system is no more than to contain the youth population.  I put it to him that many among this population are educating themselves in matters that are of direct concern.  This is witnessed by the movements that have focused on the virus, to name one, East Anglia Workers Coronavirus Support Group who have held online meetings, written open letters and supported the Norfolk NEU petition and who are holding weekly protests at Norfolk County Hall regarding the safe reopening of schools.

Without the interventions of an emergency post-14 curriculum with slimmed down knowledge content and an emphasis on skills like communication, problem-solving, co-operation learning and employability rather than Dame Rachel’s notion of “Saturday lessons and August return date for year 10 pupils’” many will not make it out of the post-COVID-19 wilderness, will have reached the point of no return and will be lost somewhere between education and social care.

Emma Hardy responds to HEPI report on effects of Covid-19 on students

Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Minster for Further Education & Universities, responding to the HEPI reportsaid:

“These figures show that whilst universities have responded quickly and largely successfully to problems, there are still significant numbers of students not getting the support they need.

“Not all of this can be laid at the door of universities, which have had to meet the challenges with no meaningful help from government.

“It is paramount that the government provides the support needed so universities can feel confident in dealing with students over the impact of COVID-19 during the next academic year.

“The government must also provide increased support to students regarding their mental health and wellbeing and providing well-sourced and sufficient hardship funds to universities so no student gets into further debt because of the pandemic.”

On the cusp: education and social care in the time of Corona – Ian Duckett

Ian Duckett Education correspondent for SATU-East

(First published in the SEA journal, Education Politics , June 2020.)

In recent times I have been the designated safeguarding lead in three educational settings, including an alternative provision attended (or more often not) by some extremely vulnerable young people. In the present pandemic I have been working in the guise of educator.

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Nothing I have experienced in these roles has challenged my view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist on the cusp of education and social care.

At the heart of this argument is of course the ground breaking legislation by Labour in 2003 and pockets of local initiatives that pre-dated and influenced in and which gave birth to the barely still breathing Sure Start project.

Every Child Matters (ECM) , the radical government initiative for England and Wales that was launched in 2003, at least partly in response to the death of Victoria Climbié,  is one of the most important policy initiatives ever introduced and development in relation to children and children’s services ever. It led in the short to medium term to massive and progressive advances to the children and families agenda, leading to the Children Act 2004. ECM covers children and young adults up to the age of 19, or 24 for those with disabilities and it is important (especially perhaps in the time of Coronavirus) to remember its keynotes:

  • stay safe
  • be healthy
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic well-being
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As well as my own harrowing experiences and observations that ranging from victims of abuse and violence to hunger and neglect, the SEA seminar, entitled,  Vulnerable Children and the Lock Down,  on 16 April provided some valuable input. One issue has been the provision of free school meal vouchers. In usual fake tory so called “value for money” solutions, it has been out sourced to a company with inadequate IT to deal with the demand. There are families who are starving because of it. One of the children I have been dealing with in Norwich only engages at all so that he can get a daily Aldi meal deal voucher. There are similar stories in a number of London boroughs.

The BBC’s Newsnight Special Coronavirus: How Britain’s invisible children are being forgotten, broadcast on 9 April (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0892xt2) also provided great insight into the social, economic and health crises. The low numbers of at risk children taking their crisis place in a school is frighteningly low and the most economically disadvantaged are without the free school meals service, in some areas as low as 10%.

Newington Green School in Islington was featured. It is in an area, though often seen as leafy and well to do houses and schools some of the most deprived children in the UK. The N1 postcode is on all kinds of cusps.

Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection told BBC Newsnight: “A worryingly low number of vulnerable children allocated a school place in England to keep them safe during the coronavirus crisis are actually turning up”. In some areas just a quarter of the “at risk” children who are meant to be in school are attending, the programme has been told. Norfolk is the only local authority to have reported an official figure. It is 13%. In some areas the figure is below 10%.A head teacher said that she believes those officially deemed “at risk” were “only the tip of the iceberg”.

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Children who would probably be taken into care under normal circumstances, where a more specialised provision would be available are having to be dealt with in a wholly inadequate mainstream provision. Teachers and social workers are on the front line and having to have contact with children and their parents at their own risk.

The remedy for this, of course, as it was in 2003 and always has been: to achieve economic well-being for all of our young people.

This can only be done by preparing learners for employment and economic, independent living through training providers’, proper apprenticeships and work.

The following characteristics would provide the evidence for young learners achieving economic well-being:

■ examples of the development of learners’


■ learners’ involvement and achievement in

enterprise activities;

■ learners developing employability skills;

■ learners engaging in team building and


■ learners access to, and take-up of, careers

education, advice and guidance;

■ personal finance education

■ work experience;

■ work-based learning.

Information, advice and guidance must be evidenced by:

■ careers advice and guidance;

■ a schedule of one-to-one interviews.

The real fear is that the inequalities inherent in a social class rigged education system will be exacerbated by the pandemic school closure in a Michael Gove inspired wet dream with a well- resourced affluent middle-class keeping up with and getting ahead of the school curriculum and an army of disadvantaged youngster with no resource and no encouragement.   A work-related curriculum needs to be rooted in a meaningful skills-based curriculum with transferable skills as its spine and entitlement at its heart and engagement, life-skills, literacy in its blood.

Community and co-operative responses urgently need to be unleashed now ahead of any second wave – Joe Fortune

The Westminster Government doesn’t have the answers or wherewithal to prepare us for a possible second wave. Outside of somehow escaping a recurrence or having a vaccine, our hopes lie with ourselves and our ability for co-operation.

Despite the pain and disruption Coronavirus has caused, communities across the UK responded to this crisis not with division, but with co-operation. We befriended neighbours, joined mutual aid groups, donated to foodbanks and more. We came together in solidarity.

Co-operatives, as businesses rooted in their communities, contributed heavily to that effort. They were at the forefront of a national effort to feed the country during the current crisis. They were the first to announce that no child should go hungry because schools were closed. They were the first to back food banks struggling because of panic buying.

Two thirds of people want to keep the renewed sense of community found during the crisis. So as we emerge from this first wave of the virus, we must ask ourselves how we will maintain this co-operation and community spirit, and indeed what it says about the kind of nation we want to be post-lockdown.

The Government now has growing charge sheet in terms of its own decision-making abilities and it is clear that the British people don’t trust this Prime Minister’s judgement in relation to Covid-19. We don’t have faith that the Government has all the answers – and in absence of other solutions, communities must be immediately incentivised, organised and guided to work together like at no other time in our history. This isn’t just about dealing with the aftermath of lockdown, but preparing ourselves for a potential second wave – which the Government is patently failing to do.

Of course, it won’t be easy or straight forward – but it is necessary. A powerful recent piece co-authored by Kirsty McNeil of Save the Children powerfully put across the need for a volunteer army to catch-up children’s educations post-lockdown. It also pointed to the view of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Integration that the three-quarters of a million people who signed up as NHS Responders risk being turned off volunteering altogether as a result of the handling and lack of success of the scheme.

However, there are fantastic examples of more organic and co-operative spirited activity right across the country. From fantastic new platforms like the Co-op Group’s Co-operate website to 3DCrowd, which has 8000 volunteers knocking out over 150,000 facemasks. So many communities already stepped up where the Government failed: when the lack of PPE endangered lives and rendered Government decisions redundant or counter-productive, the Harrogate Scrubbers stepped in to raise money for and make large quantities of PPE for their local hospital. These are among so many more examples to be chosen from.

So whether it be a volunteer army helping with education or a large-scale community push towards generating the vital protective kit like masks and PPE, we know our communities are ready to serve. We know the solution lies in co-operation.  What the Government could help with is the guiding, the incentivising and the opening of doors and minds to make it happen – then we might be better prepared for any second wave that may come.food


Government needs to take action to support this year’s graduates – Emma Hardy

Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, commenting on Universities UK’s report, Supporting Graduates: The Class of 2020, which calls for paid internships for graduates, said:

“Labour has been calling on Government to take action to support this year’s graduates who are facing a very uncertain future. That’s why we need a Back to Work Budget with a focus on jobs, jobs and jobs.

“These proposals are both sensible and practical and will enable graduates to gain vital work experience and build on the skills and knowledge acquired in their degree courses. The support the proposals are receiving from bodies such as the CBI and the Local Enterprise Partnership Network is a strong indication Government must take them seriously.”

Working class skills by Ian Duckett

Ian Duckett- Education correspondent for SATU – East

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The curriculum has, for me, always been concerned with three interwoven strands: the development of skills, knowledge and general education/enrichment with entitlement as its strong backbone.

When I use the term skills I am referring to the various incarnations of government sponsored generic skills initiatives from common skills to core skills to skills, the dabbling in essential skills and, most recently functional skills as they relate to mostly a narrow vocational curriculum but at a times a broader and more meaningful wider curriculum that has attended to cross the academic/vocational divide and generate a genuine learning curriculum.

While skills like problem-solving, teamwork, study skills communication have a crucial role to play in post-16 education I agree with the argument that the notion of either a knowledge-free curriculum or of a content free pedagogy is a manifest absurdity. As the basic skills only model of skills development still seems to be winning again over a fuller, more developmental version of skills comprising improving own learning, working with others and problem -solving, the need for a core module on ‘learning to learn’ is as important as ever.

These wider, survival skills that can be seen as street-wisdom or working class seem to be undervalued and undermined by those whose diktat it is to decide on what the curriculum is and is for.


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Clearly skills, be they termed common, core, key, functional or anything else need to relate to either generic learning skills or the specific learning skills relating to a subject and have a major role to play, especially, one might argue, with students from less traditional backgrounds.

The economic imperative has raised broader educational and social questions. It is not just vocational training that people should receive. They have a right to be educated more broadly. Once again that might be seen purely in economic terms. How else can people experience fulfilment as human beings?


As a young teacher reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire as a crusade for humanity it made me see dehumanization both as an historical reality and as an individual experience in the lives of many of the learners I worked with. This informed my teaching for many years. As time passed I saw the matter in greyer terms, but remain wedded to the view that barriers to learning are neither purely educational concerns to be addressed by teachers nor problems to be solved by social workers. In almost all cases they existed and continue to exist at the cusp of education and social care.

As a consequence of this I became more and more interested in the importance of learning things that can make a difference and have continued to be drawn to the idea of pursuing interests where possible and using the situation you find yourself in as your university if you are not in that fortunate position.


These questions are as vital live now as it was then and successive governments have failed to address the skills gap.

Similarly those based genuine assessment for learning that have not just been state-sponsored assessment objectives aimed at perpetuating a system that required the many to fail so that the few can succeed in the system have fostered a genuine progressive curriculum. Curriculum development and delivery and assessment methodology alike need to be matched with both the appropriate skills, and attitudes and the syllabus aims and objectives which are: see meanings beneath the surface of, say a text; understand the nature and interplay of its constituent parts; show appreciation of what impacts on it; make a well-considered personal and critical response.

Armed with the results of a ‘skill audit’ practitioners are able to produce an introductory skills based modules including an identification of skills and attitudes, the aims of a specification and demystify he hidden curriculum . A teacher can, where these conditions exist, work collaboratively with learners on something that enhances the student learning experience, impacts on teaching and learning styles and develops the curriculum in its broadest sense. Ever since I can remember there have been problems about the assessment of generic skills and general education aspects of vocational education, be it liberal education; general studies; communication skills; general and communication studies; social and life skills; people and communication and, more recently functional skills

If then, there is nothing new about the problematic nature of assessing these transferable skills, supposedly a pre-requisite for a competitive UK industrial and service workforce, why the commotion on the pages of the education press and beyond? Perhaps it is because now, these ‘core’; ‘key’; ‘transferable’ or ‘generic’ skills are, for the first time, making an impact on traditional academia as well as vocational further education.

So, what next?


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Learner engagement should determine a curriculum that is meaningful and personalised and one which will foster the development of personal, learning, thinking and employability skills in a safe environment for all 14+ learners.

This curriculum outline is based on an entitlement model and is, at the same time, developmental and aspirational.  With English and Maths at its heart and with engagement, enterprise and employability as its chief objectives, the curriculum will emphasise personal and social development and provide vocational tasters. Learning is supported by regular 1:1 coaching sessions and target-setting reviews; Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) and citizenship and a wide-range of enrichment activities aimed at enhancing overall learning experience.

Many will dismiss these proposals as utopian, in dismissal of the professionalism of teachers which is understandable given Britain makes no effort to present teachers as expert professionals. What the current crisis proves however is teachers are key workers. You can take away the exams and associated bureaucracy as has been done and teachers still innovate in delivering learning opportunities for students who will still progress to the next stage of their lives. Take the teachers out of this the exam boards cannot do fill their roles. Is it really utopian to suggest teachers be free to exercise the full professional agency their status deserves? After all teachers working conditions are children’s learning conditions and if this crisis can create a better understanding of how to enhance these then it will not have been wasted. At the end of it all, after post-coronavirus, re-imagining education and seizing a new initiative, as well as protecting these gains, should be a rallying call for radical educators.

Ian Duckett is Secretary of the Norfolk and Suffolk Branch of the Socialist Educational Association and Post-16 Officer for Norfolk NEU.


Ian Duckett

June 2020




Safety must be at the heart of universities’ rebuilding plan

Commenting on the release today (Wednesday) by Universities UK (UUK) of a set of principles to support the higher education sector as it emerges from lockdown, UNISON senior national officer Ruth Levin said:

“Universities have to work with unions to make campuses safe for students and staff and this plan is a good first step. It provides a much-needed roadmap for the sector to begin rebuilding after the pandemic.

“Protecting health has to be the number one priority. Everyone on campus needs to commit to the same safety blueprint if it’s to be truly effective.

“It’s concerning that workers employed by cleaning, security and catering contractors aren’t mentioned in the guidance. We hope universities and private companies will ensure all staff are protected, regardless of who employs them.”

Emma Hardy on guidance for universities emerging from lockdown

Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, responding to Universities UK guidance for universities emerging from lockdown, said:

“The coming academic year will be a very different experience for students and staff alike and producing a clear set of principles on which to proceed, with a focus on the wellbeing of staff and students, is exactly what is needed.

“At a time when leadership is called for it is a matter of regret that the Government has so far remained on the sidelines, introducing heavy handed powers to the Office for Students and allowed uncalled-for caps on English student numbers on the devolved regions.

“Labour urges the Government to take this opportunity to work with UUK to ensure all universities are adequately supported through this crisis.”

Government must mitigate lockdown impact on educational attainment and inequality – Rebecca Long Bailey

Commenting on the Sutton Trust-EEF’s findings that school closures could undo almost a decade of progress on closing the attainment gap, Shadow Education Secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey MP said:

“The Government must act quickly to mitigate the impact lockdown is having on educational attainment and inequality.

“There needs to be a package of academic and pastoral support, including enhanced pupil premium funding, targeted tuition for disadvantaged pupils, a national programme of emotional and well-being support and modifications to next year’s curriculum and exams.

“But the Government must also understand that tackling the academic shortfall alone will not be enough without tackling the root causes of child poverty and inequality.”

Government not demonstrated it can start planning for safe opening of schools – Long-Bailey

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commenting on the guidance in relation to schools re-opening, said:

“In the absence of clear scientific advice and a safety plan, the Government has not demonstrated it is in a position to start planning for the wider safe opening of schools, or given any reassurance to parents, teachers and pupils that they will be safe.

“There is no information about how social distancing will work in schools, how teaching and support staff, pupils and parents will be protected from the virus, how small class sizes will be achieved, and no evidence behind the decision to select some year groups over others.

“The Government must urgently convene education unions and the profession more widely and address their concerns, to allay the anxiety and confusion caused by Boris Johnson’s announcement and this guidance.

“By working with the sector the Government can create a workable plan for the reopening of schools when the science indicates it is safe to do so, and which has the confidence of all those affected.”