New year - New challenges to conquer

Published 7th January 2021

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.”– Francis of Assisi

I would like to start by welcoming everyone back to a new term and wishing you all a safe, happy and peaceful new year. I hope you managed to relax over the Christmas break and spend some valuable time with family and loved ones; it was a ‘different’ Christmas for many of us I know. As we enter a new year and start a new term and in light of this week’s announcements by the Prime Minister, I wanted to write to you with a few thoughts and observations.

There is no doubt that the last ten months have been challenging in education as in life. School leaders and teachers ably supported by their governing bodies, have done an incredible job of adapting to life within a pandemic and have taken every step possible to make life as ‘normal’ as can be achieved for their students in these times.

My overwhelming response to the news that schools were to close from Tuesday was one of relief.  The COVID figures published over the last week are shocking. The new strain of the virus results in more rapid spreading and many hospitals in the south of the country are reporting that they are at or beyond the point of crisis. It appears almost inevitable that these challenges will spread nationally over the coming weeks. While I fully understand that the government is balancing the country’s economic requirements against those of public health, closing schools was the only option available.

The announcement that all public examinations this summer were to be cancelled, and assessment once again moved to become the responsibility of teachers brought more relief. I, along with many others, was wary of the ‘open’ language used by the PM when talking about the examinations on Tuesday. We now know roughly what we are working with, and over the coming weeks, Ofqual has been tasked to outline detail around assessment arrangements. We must learn from last year’s debacle of the stray algorithm; Ofqual cannot repeat those mistakes. I take heart from Gavin Williamson’s statement today that “This year, we’re going to put our trust in teachers, rather than algorithms.”

So where does all that leave us?

As an ex-headteacher, I remain a member of ASCL, and I can only paraphrase a paragraph from a bulletin sent out on 5th.

The English education system is dominated by a terminal structure of examinations. The summer term is traditionally almost wholly taken up with external assessment, and from February half term, teachers are preparing their students for the upcoming examinations. This week’s decision liberates teachers to get back to core business, reminding our students and ourselves just what is good about design and technology as a subject. It isn’t just about a qualification. It’s about learning, exploring, experimenting and really getting to know and love the subject!

Before all students return to the classroom (best guess at the moment will be at least March), there is the small matter of remote learning. Ignoring for just one moment the inequality of access that blights students and their parents nationally which government must seek to address urgently, we move to online classes with immediate effect. Some of you will be aware that we have been working with a dedicated team of teachers to produce over 180 lessons for key stages 1, 2 and 3 that start to go live on the Oak Academy platform later this month. Hopefully, these lessons will assist home learning; they are purposely written with the view that parents should be easily able to engage and support learning. They are also material light to enable easy engagement. Secondary teachers should also keep an eye on our website and social media for news of live project briefs set through our partnership with Talenthouse (Look for ‘Untitled’).

In addition to the above, members now have free access to over 80% of our learning resources hosted on our website, should you require advice we are at the end of an email to support and guide you. We will continue to run the popular free webinars throughout this term (bookable through our website), and our low-cost online CPD will continue to expand over this term.

Several teachers have asked if they should continue the NEA with their students, my response would be yes, continue towards completion as best possible in the circumstances while we wait for further clarification from Ofqual.

On the subject of Ofqual, we (along with all other subject associations) were invited to a number of consultations last year around the GCSE and A Level assessment arrangements. It is our expectation that the same will happen this year. If there are points that you would like us to raise, please do let us know through emailing us at Rest assured that we will be working to ensure that design and technology teachers’ concerns are heard loud and clear. Ofqual released a statement yesterday.

These are complex and challenging times, but every one of you is doing what I believe we all came into this profession to achieve, you are making a positive impact on the students around you. You are teaching knowledge, skills and helping to develop character sets that will stay with your students long after they have left school. I salute you and assure you that the Association is working quietly but diligently in the background to make sure that your voice is heard.

Additionally we have just received an email from Ofqual and so I would like to share an excerpt that will obviously be of interest to you

"We are working with the Department and will begin to consult widely next week on possible arrangements for GCSEs, A levels and vocational and technical qualifications.  We are mindful of the Secretary of State’s preference for teacher assessment to play its part. We are not starting from scratch: we have been considering different scenarios for some time and we have, of course, learned lessons from last summer. We will work towards the best approach for students so that they can progress on to the next stage in their lives. It’s important that students continue to engage with education, so they are best placed to progress. We are aware of teacher workload and how teacher assessment of students will have an impact on that. And of course, we are mindful of the needs of private or independent candidates and the diversity of the qualifications landscape."

Tony Ryan

Chief Executive - Design and Technology Association

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