Sir Michael Griffiths, chair of STEM Learning's Strategic Advisory Group, reacts to the departure of the government's education recovery chief and explains how STEM Learning continues to provide the support students and their teachers need.
Just a few months ago, Sir Kevan Collins was appointed ‘catch-up tsar’ (he immediately renamed catch-up ‘recovery’). It was a wise and sensible appointment. This is a man steeped in school improvement and in closing the attainment gap between the disadvantaged and the less-so.
Now he has resigned. Why? His recovery plan was deemed by the treasury – at around £15bn over the next three years – to be ‘too expensive’. Instead, the government announced a pot worth £1.4bn. This has been greeted with cries of ‘damp squib’ from the National Association of Head Teachers, and described by Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, as ‘hugely disappointing’. The Prime Minister has called this plan the next step in the recovery – surely that implies there could, and will, be more to follow? We shall see.
After rumours persisted about extending the school day by an hour and reducing the summer holiday, it was pleasing to see neither idea translated into a DfE directive. Let’s face it, with the best will in the world, requiring children (and teachers) already tired after five hours of learning to stay behind in detention (because that’s how it would have been perceived) in order to catch up on learning missed through no fault of their own was never going to end well.
So what has been suggested? How will the £1.4bn be spent? It still sounds like a lot of money, but as many people have since pointed out, this only translates to about £22 per pupil per year. We are told that £1bn will be allocated for tutoring and £250m for teacher training and development.
The three main themes identified by Sir Kevan before he departed are high quality teaching, a broad and rich curriculum, and placing schools and colleges at the centre of their communities. It strikes me that STEM Learning has a template that works and is ideally – and possibly uniquely – qualified to provide exactly the sort of support that students and their teachers need.
High quality teaching demands high quality teachers who receive high quality professional development. That is exactly what STEM Learning provides through its smorgasbord of courses – face to face (which resumed at the National STEM Learning Centre last month) and online. We have learned that though personal contact is preferable for many activities, there are effective ways of enhancing learning online too – and we are getting better at this by the day.
High quality teaching also needs high quality resources and the STEM Learning library of resources provides a huge bank of ideas and suggestions of activities THAT WORK! If you haven’t delved into the virtual shelves, get exploring; you never know what gems you might unearth with a bit of gentle digging.
Children have missed out on so much during the pandemic. Yes, they have missed your lessons, but they have also missed the excitement and personal development that comes from social interaction and a host of soft skills. Activities such as sport, music and drama require groups of children to interact; to compete; to cooperate; to practise leadership – and empathy. We need a programme in EVERY school for EVERY child that enables them to work, play and learn together beyond – or integrated into - the school day.
STEM Learning can help here too! Many schools have discovered the numerous benefits of running STEM Clubs. These Clubs can wrongly be perceived as for the more able and more keen. We need to transform such thinking and create STEM Clubs for everyone. We need every child to have the fires of enthusiasm for STEM subjects lit within them if we are to generate the scientists, engineers and technologists on which the future prosperity of our country will depend.
The recovery plan is a call to arms to embed schools and colleges into their local communities, and for the local community – and businesses in particular – to engage with the schools. What better way to turn this great idea into action than to expand the STEM Ambassador programme? Adults sharing their love and enthusiasm for STEM, and the opportunities and experience it’s given them, are a powerful message for young people, many of whom have no such role models in their daily life. Spread the word - find an Ambassador!
So, is the grand recovery plan a glorious pyrotechnic display or a damp squib? It can be either. As always, a plan is just that: a plan; an idea; a possible route.
It is you, the teachers, working with your colleagues and with organisations such as STEM Learning – whether that’s through CPD, networking and supporting each other on STEM Community or in the other ways I’ve outlined - who will determine if the plan works. STEM Learning is already responding in innovative ways. Summer schools are planned to help teachers and children with their recovery.
“Together, we can beat this virus” has been a familiar mantra for the last year. Let’s now change that to “Together we can recover, and be better, stronger!”.