Ten things I have learnt during lockdown (so far) by Barnaby Lenon

1) 95% of what I need to do can be done from home. I normally wear a smart white shirt, shorts and trainers – ready for a day of zoom conferences.

2) Meals take on iconic status and are subject to much planning. They are the focus of the day. Last year I stockpiled baked beans, tinned grapefruit and Ambrosia creamed rice in case Brexit turned out badly. They have seen me through Covid-19.

3) A lot of people are still scared of going out. Some have been taking a relaxed view for the past few weeks, but many are not going anywhere until they get the vaccine.

4) Online lectures are just good as live. You have to plan them really well and because they are put on a platform they can be watched at any time the student wishes.

5) Government Ministers should never say things about plans for schools without accompanying detailed notes. Too many times a Minister has said something which is either not quite right or is ambiguous. But often it takes a week before explanatory notes appear on the DfE website.

6) Boarding schools (state and independent) need more attention. Boarding schools have been hardest hit by this pandemic. Many overseas pupils will not return next term and some schools will be forced to close. But guidance in relation to quarantine and social distancing came late in the day. Secondary boarding schools were due to open on June 15th; advice about not reopening appeared on June 11th.

7) Schools are now capable of taking their own decisions, within simple guidelines.  There are 24,281 schools in England – 16,776 primary, 3,408 secondary and 2,297 independent schools. All are different and detailed guidelines for all, while necessary in the early stages of lockdown, should now be steadily replaced by general guidelines while giving head teachers and governors plenty of discretion to operate in the best interests of their pupils in their local context. They can be trusted.

8) Lack of computers in the homes of poorer pupils may not be the main problem. Most schools have been able to open for pupils who lacked access to wi-fi or computers. Many have been able to provide computers to those who had wi-fi but no hardware.

Using the DfE definition of “disadvantaged pupils” (eligible for FSM at least once in the last 6 years) and not achieving grade 9-4 in both English and maths at GCSE as “doing badly”, then 60% of disadvantaged pupils do badly compared to 32% of non-disadvantaged pupils.

However, disadvantaged pupils make up only 39% of the group who “do badly”, i.e. 61% of the pupils who do not achieve 9-4 in both English and maths aren’t disadvantaged.   So, while poverty is without question a problem, there are many pupils who are simply idle – they could access online lessons but they choose not to. Summer holiday classes won’t help them because they won’t attend.

9) Most people have still not understood how exams are going to be graded this summer.  The Education Select Committee and the media are still taking about the accuracy of teacher-predicted grades. They have not grasped that teacher-predicted grades will be little used for assigning the grades this summer – Ofqual knows that they are too unreliable.

So many schools are going to be quite shocked when the results come out.

10) Universities have still not grasped that the A-level grades this year are not ‘real’ grades and some very good students will get unfair results. Ofqual have done their best but the algorithm they will use cannot possibly be fair to all.

Barnaby Lenon

Dean of Education, University of Buckingham

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  1. I completely agree with what you say-particularly regarding pupil attendance and results-and am very interested to see how we adapt to the second phase of this situation.

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