Global update: End of term roundup

We reach the end of the summer term with a sigh of relief. Now we have the chance to reflect on an extraordinary year.

The school year is drawing to a close with many of you already having started your summer break. In this final post of the summer term, we receive updates from our correspondents in Canada, Dubai, Jersey and Sweden. 

Canada

“Our education system has just gone through a global pandemic,” says Mike Dubeau, Director General of the Western Quebec School Board. “How will the last sixteen months be remembered? More importantly, what lessons have we learned?  I am sure these two questions will be the subject of many essays and books to come.  As an educational leader, there has not been enough time and distance to have fully recovered, nor fully reflect on the many immediate and long-term effects of the pandemic on our educational system.  I will, however, share some preliminary observations.

“I believe there has been a renewed appreciation and respect for the bricks and mortar in-person classroom instruction offered by most school systems.  For a multitude of reasons outlined in a previous post, the importance of day-to-day in-person contact with students, peers and professionals cannot be underestimated.

“Schools and the people who work within them are resilient and can adapt to massive change.  This is because we have a strong moral purpose – to care for and educate our students and to take care of one another.

“We need to take time to systematically reflect on our progress in terms of the use of technology for teaching and learning and how these new practices can be used to improve education within the present system and not replace it.

“There are more challenges yet to come as we prepare for the next school year, but we have learned so many important lessons.  We have been successful in meeting the educational and organisational challenges of safely operating a school system during this long pandemic.  We have demonstrated that we are resilient, innovative and determined.  I have the utmost confidence that we will continue to overcome any challenges that lay ahead, and as always, we will ensure that our students and communities continue to receive the educational opportunities they deserve.”

Dubai

For the expat teachers in Dubai, of which there are a considerable number, the end of term did not signal a reduction in the impact on their lives of the restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the virus. Quite the reverse – as many sought to return home, things if anything, things got worse. Because they had not been home or seen their families for two years, there was even an element of desperation.  

Our correspondents had known for months that Dubai was identified as a red country by the UK Government and they would not be able to enter directly without prohibitive costs and time delays. Their double vaccinations were not from the NHS and therefore counted for nothing. 

So a circuitous route had to be found. They settled upon a two stage journey – first to a green country where they would serve the required ten-day quarantine period and then retest and fly onto the UK.  After several green European countries were considered, the Balearic Islands became the preferred option. 

They could not access the Islands directly from Dubai. The nearest direct flight was to Barcelona.  From there they could take an internal flight to the Islands. So arrangements were made, the necessary tests undertaken and bags packed. However, just as they were about to leave, hotels cancelled their booking for lack of demand and new, more expensive arrangements had to be hurriedly made. 

After an 18-hour journey from Dubai, they made it to their hotel and started their ten day quarantine. For the first few days they managed to relax and enjoy a more comfortable temperature – it has been in the mid forties in Dubai for the last two months. 

Then to their horror the UK Government announced they were downgrading the Islands from green to amber. This meant that when they eventually got home they would have to quarantine for ten days and undergo a series of tests during that period – all paid for by them. Most families paid out over £1,000 on tests alone. After wondering if it was worth all the additional hassle they decided to stick it out and continue their journey home, complete the quarantine and take the tests. Eventually they would be free to see their family and friends. 

Their final flight home started with a stringent examination of all their documents including evidence of negative test results. On arrival in the UK their entry was relatively trouble free with only a cursory view of their costly collection of documents. Over the next ten days they self isolated, undertook the mandatory three tests and posted them in a collection centre which was some way from where they were quarantined.  

During this period they heard that the vaccine they had received in Dubai, which had not been recognised in the UK, had been given the highest safety rating and were informed by a pharmacist at a well-known chemist that as they were already double vaccinated they did not require all this testing. They were not sure whether to laugh or cry.

As we go to press we are pleased to report that most of those who made the journey are now free to move around the UK.  Let us hope the weather holds, they calm down, enjoy the company of their friends and family and have a good rest before they have to retest and set off back to Dubai.  

Jersey

Jersey, along with the rest of the Channel Islands, has one of the lowest case and death rates of the countries we cover. The trend in cases follows that of the UK with a new peak recently emerging but not as high as that in January 2021. 

Our correspondent, Mrs Jenny Posner, Headteacher of St Martin’s School, Jersey reports that Jersey is in the third wave of the pandemic. 

“Vaccination levels are high with 63 per cent of all adult Islanders being fully vaccinated and 83 per cent of adults having had the first dose (as at July 4. www.gov.je). Infection rates are rapidly increasing, especially among young people, which is impacting schools. Isolation policies have recently been changed and therefore if you are a direct contact of a positive case and you aren’t displaying symptoms, you are no longer required to isolate. However, you must take part in PCR testing. As we have seen an increased impact of COVID cases for younger people, the Government of Jersey has produced various short videos aimed at children and young people to provide reassurance. The playlist can be found here:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4aZ9DqBy0lciwpayzVJptqzLjIUrAHyb 

“As we approach the summer break, we are all looking forward to a little time off. Some schools in Jersey are offering summer lessons in the aim of reducing the impact of COVID through the Jersey Tutoring Programme. Jersey Library is also getting involved in promoting reading for young people over the summer and has issued all primary aged pupils a library card which has been handed out at school alongside promotion of the summer reading challenge. They are also working with some primary schools to provide satellite libraries once a week, so that the local community can come to the primary school to change books and get their stickers for the reading challenge. This is a great example of partnership working across the Government to support children in Jersey.  

Sweden

Mats Rosenkvist, CEO of Successful Schools Sweden, writes that schools in Sweden have been out for the summer holiday since early June. Since then the Ministry of Education and The Health Authorities have, based on the current situation, said that all schools up to upper secondary level will start the new school year in mid August. Procedures will be put in place to reduce the spread of the virus with the focus on social distancing for the pupils.

Towards the end of the last term, due to regional differences in the degree to which the new Covid outbursts occurred, schools in some districts reverted back to online teaching. 

Based on the current situation, higher education can also go back to open schools. Several universities have, however, decided to continue with online teaching until the middle of the  autumn term.

Already aggregated national data of pupil outcome in upper secondary schools show improved learning results. Especially in Mathematics, the subject that both pupils and teachers agree have been most difficult to carry out with quality teaching online. The Swedish National Agency for Education, the equivalent to the DfE, has published analysis on this, concluding that teachers must have been generous when grading – teachers not wanting pupils in ”generation corona” to suffer from a lower quality of teaching. One reason for higher results, according to the Swedish National Agency for Education, might be that the national tests were cancelled, leaving teachers without those as a reference when grading. This situation has prompted debate about the generous grading being unfair to other cohorts offering an unfair advantage.

England

We conclude this update with a recognition of the retirement of one of our esteemed colleagues, Gary Phillips.  One day, very early on in the development of the London Leadership Strategy component of the London Challenge, George Gyte, one of our key London Challenge Advisers, suggested that a new headteacher he had recently visited would be an ideal person to be coached by our newly selected and trained consultant leaders – later to be called National Leaders of Education. So I set out to meet Gary to determine who would be a suitable coach for him. 

Arriving at his school I was shown into his study where Gary gave me a not too flattering description of my performance as a head teacher and my potential to help him. Rather taken aback by his comments I deflected the focus of his words by asking him about his school and his plans for its future. In doing so I quickly realised that I was speaking to a very able, no nonsense, enthusiastic and charismatic headteacher. A unique person who would require a similar type of person to coach him. Faced with this challenge I looked at our pool of consultants and decided that Dame Sue John would be the best match. 

Dame Sue John writes: “I first started working alongside Gary in 2004 and we are still very good friends and colleagues – an enduring professional relationship. Immediately, I knew that Gary was special – super smart and a person of real integrity. He went on to build the amazing school that is today Lilian Baylis Technology College, a school rooted in high expectations for all with a focus on celebrating diversity in all its forms. 

“Gary has always been ambitious for the school, the staff, the parents and the pupils within the Lambeth community but for him it has never been about personal recognition. He is however greatly admired and respected in the educational world and I for one have learnt a great deal from him over the years. He has left a lasting legacy at Lilian Baylis but now it is time for him to spread his fairy dust more widely across the system and continue to change lives.”

We would also like to record that Gary has contributed much to the work of Olevi, Challenge Partners and schools across the City of London. He is held in high esteem by many in the profession, including his chair of governors Martin Ripley, George Gyte and Professor Sir Tim Brighouse.  In our work sharing our expertise with other countries, Lilian Bayliss has been one of our first ports of call if we wanted to show international visitors what an outstanding London School looks like and to meet an outstanding head who runs one. 

Thanks Gary and good luck in the future.

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We would like to thank all our correspondents for their contribution to our global update. Not just on this occasion but over the past eighteen months. We would also like to wish them and all our readers a restful few weeks before the school system in their country springs back into action in what we hope will be less testing conditions than those we have experienced in the unprecedented circumstances we have faced in the last year and a half. 

Take care and stay safe 

George