September curriculum must not focus solely on "catch-up"

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are being urged to avoid focusing solely on pupils “catching up” as they plan their curriculum and timetabling for September.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has urged school leaders to avoid the “terrible mistake” of prioritizing extra catch up in core subjects over subjects like arts and PE.

In his video updates to members this week he said that schools would not be “back to normal” in September and that our thinking should now turn to what a blended curriculum of studying in school and at home is going to look like.

Speaking on Monday (June 1), he said: “What does September look like? It’s not me making this up, I’ve heard the secretary of state saying this: We are not going to be back to normal in September.

“We’re still going to have some members of staff who will be shielding for one reason or another. Very significantly, what we are going to see is pockets of this virus suddenly increasing in certain parts of the country. There will be communities where public health will say these schools/colleges need to go back into lockdown. That is likely to continue while this virus continues and we know this virus is going to continue for at least a year and possibly for years ahead.

“Now what that then does is to raise questions about what does blended learning truly look like. How do we have a curriculum whereby whether you’re studying in school or studying at home we can try to make sure that the curriculum is intact for you. We need to do some thinking around that.”

The government has ruled out teachers being in school during the summer holidays and Mr Barton has urged schools to be cautious about their approaches to “catch-up” when September comes.

He said: “What do we think the curriculum is going to look like for the autumn term when those children come back? One of the things I think we ought to guard against is the notion that it’s all based on catch-up; that because children haven’t had as much English and maths, therefore we’re going to take them out of PE and arts subjects to give them extra catch-up. That would be a terrible mistake it seems to me.

“I think we come back to schools remembering their deep humanity; that it’s about people working with people; that things that maybe we push to the margins too easily are actually going to be central. Physical activity, fresh air, exercise, the creative power of the arts and other subjects, making things – all of these things are going to be more important.”

Elsewhere, schools are also being advised to consider remote education scenarios as part of their curriculum and timetable planning for September.

In a blog, ASCL’s curriculum specialist Steve Rollett also warns that the autumn could see “sizeable numbers of pupils” still being educated remotely or further periods of lockdown “either nationally or locally”.

Given the uncertainty, he suggests thinking more explicitly about pedagogy rather than timetabling and how remote learning can be made to work more effectively.

He writes: “Given that remote learning seems likely to extend beyond September in one way or another, any time that can be spared making it more effective is likely to be time well spent.

“Have a timetable ready for September by all means – you may need it, or parts of it, for September. Indeed, you might need to adapt it through further iterations when we know more about what we’ll be dealing with in September. But also know that the most important frameworks a school builds, particularly in relation to remote learning, are likely to be pedagogic.”


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