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Coping with the physical and mental damage of Covid-19

27 Aug

The summer term of 2020 will be memorable.  Who would have thought that when the new year broke, we would be on the cusp of experiencing the most gruelling time on this planet testing the leaders of schools and academies to the limit?  This is what precisely happened as we approached the end of the spring term.  Having originated in a market in Wuhan, China, at the tail-end of 2019, Covid-19, the virus, leapt from bats to humans.  Since then, this microscopic predator has wreaked havoc on humankind, laying low many people’s lives, devasting the world’s finances and disrupting civilization as we have known it.  The world’s scientists, at the time of writing, are frantically trying to find a cure to fight the enemy and a vaccine to stop it from entering humans and creating more mayhem.  At the earliest, they will not know if they are successful until the year ends and 2021 dawns.

Education – among most aspects of life – has been clobbered by Covid-19.

Schools and academies have been compelled to shut down during the summer term of 2020 and, at the time of writing, are directed to reopen in September 2020.  However, the government has a fight on its hands with the unions, especially as scientists have now discovered that youngsters from the age of 10 upwards can become infected with the virus and worse still, pass it on to adults – teachers, support staff and, of course, their parents.

School and academy leaders have on the one hand to do everything possible guard their communities – pupils and staff – from the virus and, on the other hand, act as “piggy-in-the-middle” between the government that is determined that institutions will open in September and the unions who justifiably fear for the lives of their members.   Their leadership will be severely tested trying to promote peace between two warring factions.

In the middle of it all are the children, who have suffered greatly, the poor and disadvantaged more than the rest.  In my mind’s eye, I see two bulls at war with each other – the government on the one hand and the unions on the other.  The ground on which they do battle are the schools and academies, and the lives that they imperil the most are the children.  I often wish that if they must fight, they take their feuds elsewhere.  However, they don’t, and they can’t.   The curious feature of this conflict is that both sides aver that they take the stance that they do in the best interests of the children.

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Covid-19: The Continuing Saga

27 Aug

Covid-19 has dominated our lives during the Spring Term 2020 and is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.     The world-wide pandemic has had a devastating and mainly negative impact.  Post-Covid-19 is likely to see an altogether different landscape from the one we viewed pre-pandemic.  No area of life will be left unaffected, including education.

Most businesses have suffered as also people – vis-à-vis their economic condition.  However, the negative impact was mitigated by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who pumped billions into the British economy.  Who would have thought that this would have happened in December 2019 when Boris Johnson triumphantly trumpeted that we would – come hail or shine – be leaving the European Union by the end of 2020?

The government recognised that it made some serious mistakes.  Boris Johnson – at last – accepted responsibility when Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC interviewed him on 24 July 2020.  He said that in the “first few weeks and months” of the outbreak, his ministers and he “could have done differently” in its handling of the virus.

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What Gavin Williamson’s promotion will mean for schools

12 Aug

On 24 July 2019, Gavin Williamson CBE, the former Defence Secretary of State, was appointed Education Secretary replacing Damian Hinds, sacked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, following the night of the long knives.

On 30 April 2019, former Prime Minister Theresa May dismissed Williamson from his position as Defence Secretary following allegations that he leaked the news from a top-level National Security Council meeting that the Chinese business giant Huawei was to be granted limited access to help build UK’s new 5G network.  Williamson was reported to have been opposed to this move.  He strenuously denied leaking the information.  Sir Mark Sedwill, Mrs May’s Cabinet Secretary, was asked to investigate the leak after The Daily Telegraph reported her plan for Huawei to have a role.   His report pointed the finger at Williamson.

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Damian Hinds’s possible educational agenda for English schools

20 Apr

Damian Hinds was appointed Education Secretary on 7 January 2018, when Theresa May reshuffled her Cabinet.  He replaced Justine Greening, who turned down May’s offer to become the Secretary for Works and Pensions. Hinds rose from being a Whip to Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury then on to the Department for Works and Pensions as Employment Minister before taking on his current job.

Educated at the voluntary aided Roman Catholic Grammar School, St Ambrose College in Altrincham, Cheshire, he went on to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics in Oxford, securing a first-class degree. During his stay, he was elected President of the Oxford Union Society.

He was elected to Parliament in 2010 from East Hampshire, re-elected in 2015 and then in 2016 – increasing his majority from 56.8%, to 60.7% to 63.6% of the votes cast.

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New faces in education’s top team

18 Aug

Prime Minister Theresa May appointed two new ministers at the Department for Education – Mr Robert Goodwill and Ms Anne Milton.  The rest of the education team remains unchanged and will continue to be led by Ms Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities.  Mr Nick Gibbs remains as Minister of State for School Standards and Equalities, Mr Jo Johnson continues to be in charge of Universities, Science, Research and Innovation and Lord John Nash stays on as Under- Secretary of State for the School System.

While we know about and have had experience of the work and impact of the latter four, what do we know about the first two?

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Justine Greening takes over the education reins from Nicky Morgan

28 Aug

In the summer of 2016, Brexit led to the political demise of Ms Nicky Morgan, the ex-Education Secretary, and the appointment of Ms Justine Greening.

Ms Greening, representing Putney in London, was elected to Parliament in 2005.  Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, listed her as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom.  Born in 1969, Ms Greening was appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury in May 2010, becoming Secretary of State for Transport in October 2011.   In September 2012, she took charge of International Development and continued in the post before being appointed Education Secretary on 14 July 2016 by Prime Minister Theresa May.

In June 2016, Ms Greening announced on Twitter that she was in a “happy same-sex relationship”. She campaigned strongly to remain in Europe, though she acknowledged that that sometimes the country was better off outside it.   Continue reading