Half-term report: Is 49% really a pass mark for this test?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: After the respite of a week away from the virtual chalkface, the borough’s teachers are warily preparing themselves to be subject of the latest ‘Boris Big Bang’

Getting back to the classroom will have some advantages, but many disadvantages, too

As the UK slips down the rankings for the highest per capita death rate from coronavirus to fifth place behind Slovakia, Portugal, Czechia and Hungary, with a “mere” 3,335 deaths this week, I found myself in a Zoom meeting with an ex-colleague I haven’t seen for a while.

He is in Malaysia (85th place this week, 60 deaths). He likes to ask how things are going in the UK. He particularly likes to ask how the weather is and what the government is up to, between references to his swimming pool and the friendliness of the local geckos.

The other five of us in the meeting are all working at a variety of schools in this country and, inevitably, after catching up via the usual niceties, we ask each other to speculate about The Great Return.

The consensus seems to be that it looks like Boris Johnson wants a Big Bang.

At this point, Alan, who never wastes an opportunity to make a crude remark about the Prime Minister, makes a crude remark about the Prime Minister.

We reckon that all pupils will return to school on Monday March 8, two weeks after the prime ministerial announcement this Monday, thus complying with the government’s commitment to two weeks’ notice.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson: waiting for the PM to tell him what to do

We are all torn between a desire to get back into the classroom and engage with our pupils again, particularly those taking GCSEs and A-levels this summer. But we still don’t have any details about how these public exams will be assessed or what the mooted “mini-exams” will look like.

We can’t even be sure that schools will be open after Easter. They probably will be, but Boris’s Big Bang might provoke a surge, a fourth wave of covid-19 carried by a new, more virulent strain.

Then we will each find out if our individual schools’ policies for collecting evidence for the centre-assessed grades that we are to award our students are robust enough to be accepted. It’s not exactly going to be a level playing field. But then it wasn’t last year either. It is difficult, however, to avoid the thought that, unlike last year, the government has had time to plan.

The conversation drifts to an old colleague of ours, a deputy head who earned a reputation for spending rather too much of his time in the school library trying to complete jigsaw puzzles. We imagine that the office of Gavin Williamson is similarly kitted out with jigsaw puzzles. The education secretary must, after all, need some means of passing the time while he waits for the Prime Minister to tell him what his departmental policy is.

Our colleague eventually lost his job. By contrast, it seems that your job is secure in Johnson’s cabinet as long as you don’t mind the PM running your department for you. What a strange world we live in where Sajid Javid appears to be a paragon of moral rectitude!

Masks and self-conducted covid testing might not stop another surge in infections

So, we will be back at the virtual chalkface next week, tiring ourselves out with repeated requests, in that exasperated but kindly tone that teachers have, for our pupils to turn their camera on (why are they all so camera shy?), and remembering to change the default on the meeting settings so that the pupils can’t mute each other or the teacher. Who can blame them? Some things are just too tempting.

And then, two weeks later, we will bore ourselves and our students by repeatedly reminding them to put their masks on when moving about the school and to maintain a distance of two metres from people outside their year group bubble, neither of which most of them will do very well.

I am looking forward to poking a budded stick up my nose twice a week, too. I understand from the colleague at school who is managing our twice-weekly testing of all pupils and staff on site, that the test is 49 per cent effective if self-administered, which it will be, for practical reasons, in most cases.

I may have got the wrong end of that stick, but it seems to me that a test that is 49 per cent reliable is just marginally less useful than no test at all. There again, I am not a maths teacher.

Read more: In the classroom during covid: Schools morale is sinking fast
Read more: Teachers are coronavirus’s new frontline workers
Read more: Teachers ‘at breaking point’ over covid-19 class conditions

*We usually name the authors of Croydon Commentary articles, but in this instance our locally-based teacher has asked for their identity to be withheld.

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