Review by Robin Conway

Director of research and innovation, John Mason School

9 Jan 2021, 5:00


Robin Conway’s blogs of the week, 4 January 2021

Certainty in uncertain times, parental engagement, cutting workload, lateral flow tests and a comedic look at the philosophy of education are Robin Conway’s top picks of this week’s education topics




A lovely piece by Elisabeth Bowling, whose writing I don’t think I have discovered previously. In a time of great stress, confusion and uncertainty which is understandably leading to some friction in the teaching community, this piece is the perfect antidote. Bowling has started the year by focusing on the certainties that teachers can hold onto: that what we do matters, the honour that is working with children and that we can make the best of remote learning. As she concludes, “retrospectively, we’ll be proud to be public sector workers”. A short read that is perfect for getting into the right mindset for a new term and a new year, whatever the next few weeks throw at us.


Improving Communication with Parents


Finding the time to stop and take stock of your practice, reflect on what isn’t working and make improvements is always a challenge and I admire those who do this regularly. I am in awe of those who then find the time to share freely their reflections simply to support the wider education community. This piece by is in that spirit. Before the pandemic this school’s parent survey did not show the level of satisfaction with school communication they desired and so throughout lockdown and the return to school, they have been working to improve these. Here, Foster shares some of the key strategies they have adopted including the use of “video letters”, a brilliant idea to support a wide range of families who struggle to understand or access school communication. It is no wonder that parents’ “feelings about communication have dramatically improved” and it leaves them perfectly set up for the new restrictions.


Cutting Workload – a couple of ideas


I am aware that I have recommended a disproportionate number of Boxer’s blogs in this column but they are just so useful. His strong grasp of which initiatives can actually instil meaningful improvements are built on a philosophy that cutting workload is fundamentally about “finding the things which have the smallest impact on student outcomes and, just, well … ditching them”. As ever, his advice is strongly practical and he briefly reviews 12 strategies for reducing workload, many of which could be implemented with relative ease by leaders at all levels.


Lateral Flow Tests in Schools


In this blog, headteacher, Matthew Evans focuses on three key questions: whether the tests will reduce incidents of Covid, whether they will increase attendance, and whether the benefits are worth the costs in terms of resources. Although the decision about whether to implement lateral flow tests was taken out of headteachers’ hands and is now moot for the foresseable future, there is no doubt that a fully reopening safely will hinge upon their eventual deployment. In that sense the blog’s information is still relevant and valuable, and in the meantime it stands as a model of research-informed, intelligent leadership, giving a powerful insight into some of the incredible pressures heads are currently under, the responsibilities they have and how they are approaching this burden with an eye to the safety of their community and the education of all children. As Evans concludes, “[There] are things I cannot change, but I can try to make the best out of yet another fine mess.”


An Idiot’s Guide to the Philosophy of Education: Part 3


Finally for this week, something a little different. This guide (which contains links to parts 1 and 2) provides a brief introduction to educational philosophy. Over three blogs we meet Socrates, Locke, Rousseau, Montaigne, Dewey, Freire, Neill, Peters and Piaget (“ranked as the second most eminent psychologist of the 20th century, after Frasier Crane”). Each philosopher’s views are briefly summarised by Theobald, who keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek and manages to educate and entertain in equal measures.




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