As children go back to school it’s parents who need lessons

Britain’s children go back to school this week. But after months of chatter about grade inflation and the harmful effects of lockdown on learning, is it parenting, rather than schooling, that actually needs attention? New polling reveals that one in ten younger parents think it’s down to someone else to teach their pre-school children to speak. Dig a little deeper and this number doubles to almost a fifth for the very poorest parents. Getting the basics right is seen as someone else’s job. Too many children fall behind before they have even started school. Many never catch up. By the time they leave school, children from the poorest backgrounds are

Will vaccinating teenagers really prevent disruption to schools?

After the JCVI recommended against offering vaccines to children aged 12 to 15 on health grounds, the government asked the four chief medical officers to consider the broader case, including the impact on schooling. As we know, the government has now accepted the chief medical officers’ recommendation: that all 12 to 15 year olds should be offered one dose of Pfizer on the grounds that doing so will reduce disruption to education. The government has released details of the modelling that underpins that rationale. The approach was first to estimate the number of infections with and without vaccination under different scenarios of infection spread. Next, they used this to model

The plot against religious education

Faith is not the declining force that some secularists believe or indeed desire it to be. Even here in the UK, we have our growing and vibrant black-led churches; increasingly present mosques, temples and gurudwaras; and believers arriving from Eastern and Central Europe.  This is why it’s important for religious education to continue to have a special place in the curriculum of our schools. Although RE is not a ‘core subject’, it remains a compulsory one. Successive Education Acts have stipulated that it should be taught in such a way that reflects the mainly Judaeo-Christian traditions of this country — while also covering the teachings and practices of other religions present here. It is worrying, therefore, that

Covid restrictions are taking a terrible toll on our schoolchildren

In some senses, life in Britain is slowly returning to normal. Thousands of people gathered to watch Royal Ascot last week. Next week is Wimbledon, where 15,000 fans will pack into centre court to watch the finals. Meanwhile at Euro 2021, up to 65,000 people are expected to attend the tournament’s climax at Wembley. It’s wonderful to see these sporting events back. However, it is deeply troubling that this ‘can do’ attitude doesn’t seem to apply to events holding equivalent significance in children’s lives. The end of what has been a historically troubled school year is upon us. Usually as children prepare for the summer holidays, it’s a rare chance for them to celebrate

The school that made an American century

New York With the Karamazovian hangover now only a weekly occurrence, the healthy life rules supreme. Well, most of the time. Up early, I go for a brisk 30-minute walk, then it’s breakfast in the park that stretches out two blocks away. I finish off with two sets of 20 push-ups on a park bench, a few kicks and punches using leaves as targets, then cross Fifth Avenue going east. (Karate is now a three-night-a-week activity, and I’ve given up Judo as it takes up too much time and needs too many partners.) I then buy the papers from a friendly Indian, get my first coffee of the day from

Kids will thank us for shortening the school summer holidays

Oh for a normal summer – so close now, but Covid remains capricious, a wave across Europe threatening to wash it all away. But just think: for some schoolchildren, and their parents, the normality of the long six-week summer break may not be such an appealing prospect. Sure, the middle-classes are able to pack it with enriching activities – exciting new skills, friendships and memories. But, for kids in families with stretched budgets, it can be isolating, impoverishing, boring. And, as quite a substantial body of evidence now shows, very bad for their emotional and cognitive development – some studies even conclude that the majority of the attainment gap between

Exclusive: Haberdashers’ Aske’s could change name over slavery links

In the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, a number of leading British private schools announced plans to decolonise their syllabus. Winchester, Fettes, Ampleforth and St Paul’s Girls were all reported to be ‘formulating new approaches’ to teaching about Britain’s colonial past and whether subject curriculums were inclusive enough. Now Mr S can reveal that the Haberdashers’ Aske’s schools are the latest to join the list. The governing body of the Haberdashers’ Company has written to parents and guardians at its famous boys and girls schools in Elstree and its sister Federation in South London about its benefactor Robert Aske, a London merchant who died in 1689. In a letter seen by Steerpike, chairman Simon Cartmell

Face masks in schools: a note on the evidence

Secondary-school children returning to school from 8 March will be required to wear masks in classrooms, at least for several weeks. That is in contrast to the initial return of children to school last summer. It wasn’t until November that they were required to wear masks at school, and then only in corridors and other communal areas. But should we be forcing children to wear masks? A German study – in a preprint which has yet to be peer-reviewed – has reported negative symptoms of children who wear masks in that country.  As the researchers point out, there is a lack of evidence on the use of masks in school

Parents are being gaslighted about home-schooling

Forgive me, I’m not going to go through all the tragedies of the pandemic in this piece, not because I don’t care, but because I’ve got no time and I’m writing under very harried circumstances: the kids are still up, my deadline’s looming, and my wife keeps sending me WhatsApp messages about emailing the headteacher again. Oh boy. Things are very tense for parents. My wife’s been googling when she should be sleeping. I wake up to emails about my schedule or screenshots of government guidance, which is what this article’s about: we read this guidance, which is published for parents, and we listen to what politicians say, and we

The parent gap: what’s happened to mums and dads in Britain?

During a recent webinar with MPs, I learned that parents in Bradford were up in arms because their children had not received their free spectacles. On a visit to the optometrist, organised by the school, the children had been diagnosed with failing eyesight. Why had the school failed to follow up in providing these near-sighted children with the spectacles they were entitled to? I was not sympathetic. When my daughter was nine, I spotted that she was near-sighted because she kept squinting as she struggled to read the road signs in our new neighbourhood. Her (state) primary school had nothing to do with our visit to the optometrist, or with

The A-level algorithm shattered my university dream

With a B, an E and a U at A-Level, it came as no surprise that yesterday I was rejected by both my first and second choice universities. Had I sat the exams myself, then I would have been more understanding of the outcome: at least I would only have myself to blame. But those grades do not reflect my ability, nor were they predicted by my teacher. Instead, the BEU that greeted me on results day was based on what an algorithm thought I ought to achieve. Last week, I wrote for Coffee House of my concern that students from disadvantaged backgrounds would be disproportionately impacted by the cancellation of

It’s time to cancel the school holidays

It seems that a quarter of A level-students preparing to go to university haven’t been set any work by teachers. So… what does that tell you about the rest of them, the ones who aren’t the focus of teacher attention? Perhaps all over the country, there is a frenzy of education going on. It just hasn’t happened very much in my vicinity. Except, from what I can gather, from people with children in private schools. I do know of teachers who’ve heroically gone out of their way to teach, set work and mark it (it takes more time marking online) but it’s by no means the norm. How about the summer

A School of Anti-Semitism?

As a teacher and lecturer, I’ve had a fair amount of indirect contact with Soas — the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. I first met one of its doctoral students in 2001, around the time I began to send my A-level students to join its impressive list of alumni, which includes government ministers, ambassadors, diplomats, judges and a Nobel laureate. It has also produced impressive research tomes of international renown and is always high up in the university league tables. A sea of diversity under one scholastic sky, with so much to learn through intercultural exchange. For many, the Soas library is a place of pilgrimage.

Eton’s recipe for success

One of the first things you realise on arriving at Eton is that while you may be at arguably the best school in the world, you’re also possibly among Britain’s most hated. It’s great being surrounded by 15th-century quadrangles and Georgian boarding houses, and your uniform is as dapper as it gets (so long as you don’t mind dressing like a penguin). But you can’t walk into Windsor wearing a college crest, for fear of being mugged, and the papers are filled with stories claiming you’re overprivileged or not actually that clever. It’s a double-edged sword. You have the advantage of a brilliant education, but bear a stigma that can’t