Which toilet should a trans pupil be allowed to use? Teachers like me have enough on our plates with the day job, but we must also face questions like this. Whatever our answer, we are bound to annoy someone. Yet for too long, ministers have shied away from offering a helping hand in this toxic debate. Unfortunately, it looks as though Liz Truss’s government is going to continue that unhelpful approach.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster for children. But calls to extend the school year are not the answer. Obviously, teacher unions will object if their members are instructed to work more days and longer hours in the summer without a pay deal to compensate. However, if their protests have scuppered those plans so quickly, the government needs a better strategy. Besides, children need a new approach now, not later.
Schools in January are usually full of life, but not this year. At the start of my day, I walk alone down silent corridors to an empty classroom. There are no children lined up outside; the bustle of school life is gone and the only voice I hear is my own.
The future became more uncertain for hundreds of thousands of youngsters this week when Gavin Williamson cancelled their GCSE exams. But pupils at some of Britain’s top public schools were affected less than their contemporaries in state maintained schools.
On Sunday morning, Boris Johnson told us that schools were safe but, tellingly, did not rule out further closures. By Monday evening he had shut every school in England to most pupils. By then, of course, many primary schools had opened for just one day. Children mingled – as they do – and went home not to return. But after those bubbles were mixed, fewer grandparents may be willing to look after them.
Teachers and education support personnel must be prioritised in the roll-out of the vaccine.
The decision to cancel next summer’s GCSE and A-Level exams in Wales has left teachers and pupils in uncharted waters. After Scotland scrapped its GCSE-equivalent National 5 exams in 2021 – opting for teacher assessments and coursework instead – England is under pressure to follow suit. But education secretary Gavin Williamson must stick to his guns and ensure that next year’s exams do go ahead.
If Liz Truss made waves in the transgender debate when she said no to ‘self-ID’, then guidance emerging from the Department for Education (DfE) is likely to cause even bigger ructions. An explosive paragraph buried towards the end of the document shows why:
‘We are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate. You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear. Resources used in teaching about this topic must always be age-appropriate and evidence based. Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material. While teachers should not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support.‘Department for Education
‘My water bottle has leaked in my bag!’ The 11-year-old girl was distraught. It was her first week at secondary school. Her neatly titled exercise books – hitherto in pristine condition – were dripping wet; was she in trouble? What would become of her?
That happened in my wife’s class. She is also a teacher and has seen most things in her career. Flooded bags are a regular mishap. Usually, upset children are easily calmed when their teacher takes charge to put things right. But September 2020 has been a very different experience in schools. Socially distanced from the class, Stephanie was unable to offer any more than verbal instructions to her young pupil. Twenty minutes later the poor girl was still wiping out her bag.
The latest U-turn – this time on face masks in schools – comes less than a week before hundreds of thousands of teachers, including myself, return to the classroom. But is the announcement that secondary school pupils may have to wear masks as they make their way around schools really a smart idea? I’m not convinced.