‘Light-touch’ assessment, pupil pods and stripped-back curriculum: DfE on remote learning

The Department for Education has published more case studies on remote education today, as pressure grows for a minimum expectation on what home learning schools should provide.

Here’s a brief round-up of what they include.


1. Ditch formal assessment for ‘lighter-touch’

The DfE said “many schools” are postponing any formal, summative assessment and instead focusing on “lighter-touch approaches to assessment for pupils returning to the school site”.

In a document on ‘Identifying and addressing gaps in pupils’ understanding’, Bedford Free School director of education Sallie Stanton said teachers will instead be “more granular in their approach using low-stakes, formative assessment to identify gaps or misconceptions”.

Examples listed included questioning or quizzes, with findings fed back to the head of department. Middle and senior leaders will then look for patterns which departmental teams can address when pupils return under a wider curriculum plan.

Another academy trust, which wasn’t named, said summative assessment has been dropped in favour of the subject-leader network working through fortnightly, virtual subject meetings to “build a picture of gaps and make subject-specific plans for the next academic year”.


2. Teachers split into teams and pupils in pods

A document on supporting staff in curriculum for a phased return states schools are facing a “significant challenge in re-planning their curricula, with the added complexity of aligning what is learned at home with what is taught at school”.

Sam Strickland, principal of the Duston School, has split his departmental teams into three groups: those delivering remote education online, teaching pupils on site, and planning for the future “behind the scenes”.

Strickland said it was important to avoid both a “reactive curriculum (where lessons are planned by individual teachers the night before) and an ‘activity curriculum’ (where lessons are planned around the activities pupils will engage in, rather than the essential concepts and knowledge that pupils need to understand and remember)”.

Meanwhile another document on organising pupils shows a large high school, not named, has split pupils into three “pods”: face-to-face (year 10 and 12s attending on rotas), home learning (years 7 to 9) and the most vulnerable children who will be in school “as much as staffing allows”. For the latter, that includes a “permanent in-school pod” for 15 per cent of the learners “persistently disengaged”.


3. ‘Challenging’ to plan curriculum, but go back to ‘fundamentals’

A document on planning a curriculum acknowledges “it is particularly challenging to make decisions about curriculum given the uncertainty around public examinations during the 2020 to 2021 academic year”.

It adds schools are planning to devote more time to foundation subjects, with a particularly focus in primary on phonics and early reading.

A director of primary education at a multi-academy trust, not named, said they’ll “re-plan and strip our curriculum back down to the fundamentals”.

But they add by making “links between subjects” and more “cross-curricular teaching” they can focus on English and maths without “losing our broad and balanced curriculum”.

An example of this is integrating aspects of humanities into English where possible.

A deputy headteacher at a secondary school said they will offer up to 10 hours per week to year 10 and 12 pupils for the rest of this term. Lessons will be in English, maths, science, humanities and modern foreign languages.

Sam Strickland, principal of the Duston School, said if more pupils return to the school site in September, they would be planning for two weeks focusing on “cultural capital”.

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