Something’s got to give!

Something’s got to give!

Needless to say, teaching unions have baulked at the suggestion that the school day or term-time should be lengthened in order for students to catch up on work missed during lockdown.

The unions exist to represent the interests of their members and that is their priority. They can’t be criticised for this, but it does mean their interests do not always line up with what is best for the children. And at the moment many children are facing an educational deficit and this problem can’t be solved unless something is done.

When the National Education Union (NEU) polled more than 10,000 members, 98 per cent said they didn’t want longer school days or terms – things the government said it was considering.

This is hardly surprising, but it still leaves the problem of how to help students catch up.

Nor were the union’s members enamoured with the government’s proposed tutoring scheme – a targeted way to help children. Just 21 per cent thought it an important mechanism in the education recovery.

Instead, those polled wanted more ‘flexibility’ in the curriculum, more opportunities for sport and exercise and extra creative and practical learning.

Neither was it a surprise that the union’s members (82 per cent) wanted schools and colleges to be allowed to decide what is important. And with £1.7bn of ‘catch-up’ funding available it would give them some spending power.

However, the results from the poll show that if it were left to the schools, resources would be targeted in the wrong areas.

The most important thing is to ensure that children in primary schools focus on catching up on numeracy and literacy as this is the core of the curriculum and everything else depends on it.

To achieve this without lengthening terms or the school day, something has got to give. You can’t fit a quart into a pint pot.

It means temporarily cutting down on other subjects to make room for the most important ones. It means less art and craft, history, geography, and time-consuming projects in order to make room for this temporary refocusing.

There will be objections to this from those who value these subject areas. I also value them, but choices have to be made and if you haven’t got the space to do everything something has to go.

In a way, it will be like restoring the Literacy Hour and the Numeracy Hour for a short period to ensure those subjects take up at least two hours every day. Perhaps this could put in place for half the year?

It’s far more difficult to solve the problem in secondary schools without a wholesale reorganisation of the curriculum. But again, priorities must be identified, and literacy and numeracy must be given primacy over other subjects.

If this is done in primary schools, it will mitigate at least some of the negative effects of the pandemic.

Some children will have caught up in numeracy and literacy and will have an advantage over those students whose schools felt sport and creative and practical learning were more valued.

It is important, however, that this strategy comes from the government because if it is left up to the schools, the priorities will be different among them.