Education

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education Tells Teachers to Phone the Police if Unvaccinated Staff Show Up to Work

From Monday, all teachers in New Zealand must have received at least the first dose of the Covid vaccine to continue working on school grounds, with unvaccinated staff committing a criminal offence if they try to enter the classroom. In addition, the Ministry of Education has recommended that schools should ring the police if any unvaccinated teacher turns up to work. The Mail Australia has the story.

The advice, published in the Ministry’s gazette on Thursday, tells school leaders that if they, or any education staff, turn up to work on Monday unvaccinated against Covid, they will be committing an offence. 

The advice being given to schools follows the ‘no jab, no job ‘policy that was enacted by the New Zealand Government last month.

“The staff member will be committing an infringement offence if they have not had their first dose of the Covid vaccine and are onsite November 15th. This means they may be liable for a fine”, the advice read.

“If staff do turn up on site after this date, we encourage school leaders to deal with this in the usual manner you would if other inappropriate people were to turn up on site.

“If you feel your safety or the safety of ākonga (pupils or students) or other staff is compromised, you could consider contacting the police”.

The advice also stated that an unvaccinated person could no longer work on-site at a school without a valid medical exemption, or a written letter from a doctor outlining an exemption request has been sought. 

Worth reading in full.

Have Continuing Covid Restrictions in Schools Left Children Feeling Unfurnished, Permanently Waiting for the Upholsterer?

We’re publishing a guest post this morning by Daily Sceptic regular Dr. Sinéad Murphy, an Associate Researcher in Philosophy at Newcastle University. She returns to the subject of Joseph, her autistic son, who had to go almost a year-and-a-half without schooling thanks to the coronavirus restrictions. She segues from reflecting on her son’s predicament to talking about his needs and the needs of all children and why those needs are being neglected by the ‘new normal’. Here’s an extract:

When Dickens’s Paul Dombey – pale and slight and destined to an early grave – first arrives at the boarding school to which his misguided father has sent him, he is left waiting in the study for someone to show him to his quarters. Weary and forlorn, with an aching void in his little heart, Paul is described as feeling as if he had taken life unfurnished and the upholsterer were never coming.

It is an affecting scene, of abandonment to a world without familiar sights and sounds and smells, peopled with strangers whose faces are not known.

I think that children with autism often feel like little Paul (who, as it happens, does not socialise normally with other children and is described by other characters as ‘old fashioned’). They feel as if life is bereft of what is really meaningful: of daily routines that are not to be departed from and that are entered into by all around; of familiar enduring objects; and of the faces of those whom they understand and who understand them. It is why they are drawn to small corners, why they clamber to sit behind you on your chair so as to be cushioned tightly between a warm person and a supporting world – one of Joseph’s very first words was ‘cozy’.

The responsibility of those of us who care for children with autism is to try to make them more cozy: to gather around them as much of meaning as we can; to furnish them with personal and palpable content; to establish routines and interact with objects and befriend people so as to thicken their being-there and being-with – to be the upholsterers of their lives.

But all children need what children with autism demand. All children feel ‘depersonalised’ when there are not people around them who really care, and all children feel ‘derealised’ when the world does not stimulate their senses. All children wish that the upholsterer would come.

As with all Sinéad’s stuff, this essay is very much worth reading in full.

U.K. School Closures Lasted Longer Than in Any Other European Country but One During Lockdowns

The British Government was (and is) so sold on the idea that lockdowns work that it forced schools to close for more time than any other country in Europe but one over the past 18 months. Children here missed more than double the amount of school than their peers in 14 countries on the Continent. The Telegraph has the story.

Between January 2020 and July 2021, British children have been out of the classroom for nearly half (44%) of days, according to a House of Commons Library analysis of data from the University of Oxford Covid Government Response Tracker.

Italy is the only European country where pupils have had more time out of school during the same time frame, with children missing 48% of days.

Youngsters in the U.K. missed more than double the amount of school than their peers in 14 other countries including Hungary, France, Spain, Lithuania and Austria.

Elsewhere pupils in Sweden and Finland have not missed any school at all, while children in Belgium missed just 4% of days. …

After the U.K., children in Germany missed the most school days (41%), followed by Romania (35%) and Poland (34%), the analysis found.

Headteachers attacked the Department for Education’s leadership during the pandemic, saying ministers have “had a tendency to double down on flawed policy decisions before having to perform U-turns”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A new study has found that when schools were closed in Scotland, teachers were 50% less likely than the general working population to be admitted to hospital, and when they were open, the risk in both groups was roughly the same. GB News has the story.

Researchers Find “A Considerably Negative Effect of School Closures on Student Achievement”

One area of the lockdown debate where I’ve seen almost no disagreement from lockdown proponents is the negative effects of school closures. After all, it’s hard to blame these on the pandemic itself: absent the deliberate decision to close schools, students would be legally obliged to attend school.

And given that remote learning is almost certainly inferior to in-person learning, especially for younger children, the only question is: “How large are the negative effects on student outcomes?”

As I noted in a previous post, the Education Endowment Foundation collated studies on the impact of school closures on students’ learning, and observed “a consistent pattern”. Specifically, students have made “less academic progress” than in previous years, and the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students has grown.

A new academic review reaches similar conclusions. Svenja Hammerstein and colleagues searched the literature for studies looking at the impact of school closures on student achievement. They were able to identify 11 relevant studies. Of these, eight showed negative effects, and three – surprisingly – showed positive effects.

The effect for younger children was consistently negative. And children from disadvantaged backgrounds were more negatively affected than children from advantaged backgrounds. This makes sense, given that those from disadvantaged backgrounds rarely have access to private tutors, and may face more distractions at home.

Regarding the studies that showed positive effects, the authors note that these assessed student achievement via some kind of online learning software. Hence, they suggest, the positive effects may be attributable to increased use of software during the time for which schools were closed.

Nonetheless, the authors conclude that “there is clear evidence for a negative effect of COVID-19-related school closures on student achievement”.

Of course, schools haven’t just been closed in advanced countries like the U.K., but also in lower and middle-income countries like Brazil. According to the Oxford Blavatnik School’s Government Response Tracker, the average number of days of mandatory school closures (in at least part of the country) is 315. And 63 countries have had more than 400 days of school closures.

Because children with lower school achievement tend to earn less in adulthood, one can put a rough dollar figure on the learning losses (by calculating the net present value of children’s lost future earnings). In a recent paper, researchers from the World Bank attempted to do this.

They estimate that a global school shutdown of five months “could generate learning losses that have a present value of $10 trillion”. Given the size of this figure, it’s almost impossible to believe that school closures would pass a cost-benefit test.

Education Charity Finds that School Closures Hampered Students’ Learning

When it comes to school closures, the Oxford Blavatnik School’s COVID-19 Government Response Tracker codes countries on four-point scale from 0 (“no measures”) to 3 (“require closing all levels”). This measure is accompanied by a “flag” indicating whether closures were required in specific regions or the entire country.

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK has spent 253 days with a rating of 3. This means there have been 253 days on which schools at all levels were closed in at least part of the country. The only European country with more days of school closures is Italy. How have such closures affected students’ learning? 

I’ve already written about two studies which found sizeable negative effects. One, based on data from the Netherlands, found that students made considerably less progress in 2020 than in each of the three preceding years. Another, based on Brazilian data, found that the change in dropout risk was substantially higher in 2020 than in 2019. But what about the UK? 

The Education Endowment Foundation – a charity founded in 2011 – has collated all the best studies on the impact of school closures on students’ learning. As it stands, their list includes six UK studies and seven international studies.

According to the charity, research to date “shows a consistent pattern”. Specifically, students have made “less academic progress” than in previous years, and the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students seems to have grown. 

As to the UK itself, “Studies from NFER, Department for Education and GL assessment show a consistent impact of the first national lockdown with pupils making around 2 months less progress than similar pupils in previous years.”

However, this figure may understate learning losses, given that the relevant studies only examined the impact of the first national lockdown. Looking at the Blavatnik School’s database, the UK has spent more than 100 days with a rating of 3 since October of 2020. 

Why might the attainment gap between more and less advantaged students have grown while schools were closed? There are a number of possibilities, including differences in parental support, access to technology (e.g., high-speed broadband) and the use of private tuition.

Overall, the studies reviewed by the Education Endowment Foundation call the Government’s policy of school closures into serious question. Although there are plans to extend the school day by 30 minutes as a way of helping pupils catch up, it’s unclear whether this will be enough to correct the learning losses that have already been sustained. 

Switch to Remote Learning Caused Large Increases in School Dropout and Learning Losses in Brazil

Back in April, I wrote about a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that Dutch students made “made little or no progress while learning from home”. Now researchers have reported a similar finding in Brazil. 

As in the Dutch study, the researchers used rigorous methods to gauge the impact of remote learning on student outcomes. In other words, they didn’t just compare outcomes in 2020 to those the year before.

In São Paulo State (where the study was based) state schools switched to remote learning only at the end of the first quarter, and they continued to teach remotely thereafter. This allowed the researchers to compare the change in outcomes between the first and last quarters of 2020 to the change in outcomes between the same two quarters of 2019.

They looked at two different outcomes: high dropout risk (i.e., whether the student had any math and Portuguese grades on his school record in the relevant quarter), and standardised test scores. When comparing the change in 2020 to the change in 2019, the researchers found large increases in school dropout and learning losses. 

Furthermore, they exploited a natural experiment to gauge the impact of switching back to in-person learning. In the fourth quarter of 2020, some municipalities allowed high-schools but not middle-schools to switch back. This allowed the researchers to compare middle- and high-schools in those municipalities with respect to the change in 2020 versus the change in 2019. 

Consistent with the previous result, they found that switching back to in-person learning was associated with higher standardised test scores. 

In the authors’ own words, their results show that “the societal costs of keeping schools closed in the pandemic are very large”. As such, they argue that “the public debate should move from whether schools should be open or not to how to reopen them safely”.

Department for Education Is “Surprisingly Resistant” to Investigating the Failures in Its Covid Response, Says New Report

The Department for Education’s (DfE) lack of planning for how to deal with a pandemic, along with its failure to set standards for remote learning when lockdowns struck, resulted in children receiving “unequal [educational] experiences” over the past year, according to a new report. This report also says that the department has been “surprisingly resistant” to investigating the shortfalls in its Covid response. The Guardian has the story.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also said there was evidence that the Government’s £1.7 billion catch-up programme – designed to restore the learning lost during school closures – may not be connecting with many of the most disadvantaged children. The committee’s report describes the DfE as having “worthy aspirations but little specific detail”.

Meg Hillier, Chair of the PAC, said: “The pandemic has further exposed a very ugly truth about the children living in poverty and disadvantage, who have been hit particularly hard.

“Online learning was inaccessible to many children even in later lockdowns and there is no commitment to ongoing additional funding for IT. Schools will be expected to fund laptops out of their existing, and already squeezed, budgets.”

Hillier said the DfE “appears uninterested in learning lessons from earlier in the pandemic”, preferring to wait for later public inquiries.

“It shows little energy and determination to ensure that its catch-up offer is sufficient to undo the damage of the past 14 months,” Hillier said.

The report, after hearings conducted by the bipartisan committee, was deeply critical of the DfE’s failings towards children with special educational needs and disabilities, many of who struggled with remote learning, and over the future of the more than one million digital devices it had distributed to schools at a cost of £400 million.

The DfE told the committee that the laptops and tablets were now owned by schools and local authorities, which would have to maintain and update them using existing budgets.

The committee accused the DfE of being “unprepared” for the disruption despite taking part in the Government’s 2016 cross-departmental exercise to test the U.K.’s response to a pandemic, called Operation Cygnus. The MPs also found that the DfE was “surprisingly resistant” to investigating its response since March 2020.

Numerous studies have highlighted that pupils made little to no progress while learning from home – so why the reluctance from the DfE to investigate its errors in fixing this?

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

Schools Ignoring Change in Government’s Guidelines on Mask Wearing

The Department for Education (DfE) has, as reported in Today’s Update, made it clear that schools cannot decide by themselves to reintroduce face coverings in the classroom when the mask mandate is removed by the Government on May 17th. Instead, the decision to temporarily reintroduce mask-wearing in response to “localised outbreaks” can only be made by “local directors of public health”. These must take “educational drawbacks” into account. The DfE said in an email to the campaign group UsForThem:

Given the negative impact that face coverings have on teaching, learning and wellbeing and current epidemiological information, their use in classrooms or by pupils and students in communal areas is not recommended at the current time.

Despite this, some schools have decided – independently of “local directors of public health”, and regardless of the costs on teaching and learning – to ignore the upcoming change in the Government’s guidelines and to continue instructing children to wear face masks in the classroom. One such school (the Friesland School in Nottingham) has written to parents saying that their children will have to continue wearing masks because local infection rates are higher than the national average.

Due to local infection rates being currently higher than the national rate, we are taking a measured approach to the easing of our Covid precautions at Friesland School.

We are requesting that face coverings continue to be used indoors from May 17th by students, including in classrooms. Furthermore, and in accordance with Government guidelines, staff and visitors will continue to wear face coverings indoors as they do now.

In the letter, the school’s headteacher justified his decision by claiming some students wanted to carry on wearing masks because they were “used to wearing them”.

[Members of the school’s Student Council] were very much of the view that the majority of students were now used to wearing them and that it would be sensible to continue with masks in the short term.

Perhaps the DfE should be more clear about the right (or lack thereof) of schools to impose mask mandates independently of local public health bodies.

Dutch Students “Made Little or No Progress While Learning From Home”, Study Concludes

Despite the fact that children face practically no risk from COVID-19, many countries closed schools in an attempt to suppress the epidemic. What effect did this have on children’s learning? According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it may have had a sizeable negative effect.

The study was based on data from the Netherlands, where national examinations take place twice a year: first in January and then again in June. Because last year’s lockdown happened to take place between the two examinations, the authors were able to compare students’ progress in 2020 to their progress in previous years.

This is a more robust method than simply comparing students’ post-lockdown performance to their performance in previous years, since it controls for any changes that may have occurred within the school system between 2019 and 2020. For example, the students enrolled in 2020 might be slightly different from those enrolled in 2019.  

The authors looked at math, spelling and reading scores, as well as a composite measure of all three, for students aged 8 to 11. Comparing scores between January and June, they found that students made considerably less progress in 2020 than in each of the three preceding years. Here’s one of their charts:

The learning loss was equivalent to one-fifth of a school year (roughly eight weeks), which means that students made essentially no progress under lockdown. In addition, the effect was 60% larger among students from less-educated homes, confirming that the costs of lockdown have fallen disproportionately on the working class.

As the authors note, their findings arguably reflect a “best-case scenario”, given that the Netherlands combines equitable school funding with high levels of broadband access, and the country’s lockdown only lasted eight weeks. Learning losses in other countries were probably even greater.

Stop Press: The authors of the study say their conclusions are applicable to English primary school children too.

800 Million Children Across the World Still Not Fully Back in School

Schools remain closed or are only offering a mix of remote and in-person learning in at least 90 countries, according to UNICEF. This means that 800 million children across the world are still not fully back in classes, highlighting the need to reflect upon the educational costs of lockdowns. The Guardian has the story.

Across the world 800 million children are still not fully back in school, UNICEF is warning, with many at risk of never returning to the classroom the longer closures go on. There are at least 90 countries where schools are either closed or offering a mix of remote and in-person learning.

The UN agency’s chief of education, Robert Jenkins, told the Guardian that the closures are part of “unimaginable” disruption to children’s education.

“I didn’t imagine the scale of the closures when schools shut last year, and I didn’t imagine it going on for so long. In all our scenario planning for disruption, this possibility was never raised,” he says.

“At the peak of the pandemic 1.6 billion children were not in school and here we are, a year later, and 800 million are still suffering partially or fully disrupted education.

“There are a lot of lessons that need to be drawn, and one is the impact that prolonged school closures have on children.”

In Britain, the number of primary school leavers struggling with literacy has risen by 30,000 over the past year of lockdowns. The scale of the decline in basic reading skills is such that the Prime Minister is devising an “emergency” plan to boost educational support. But the picture in some other parts of the world is even bleaker, with children being forced into work or being married off.

A new Covid Global Education Recovery Tracker from UNICEF, the World Bank and Johns Hopkins University is monitoring closures across the world, analysing where children are learning at home or at school.

Humanitarian organisations say the closures have contributed to a range of increasing abuses and degradation of children’s rights across the world, from increasing use of child labour to a rise in child marriages, often in communities were children already struggled to access education. …

A Save the Children report out this week warns that in Lebanon children are being put into work by parents desperate for money. The charity fears many of the children will never return to school. Jennifer Moorehead, the charity’s Lebanon director, said: “We are already witnessing the tragic impact of this situation, with children working in supermarkets or in farms, and girls forced to get married.”

In Uganda, schools have been closed since March 2020, putting 15 million pupils out of education. Only certain classes with exams coming up have been allowed to return. The rest will return in a staggered way in the coming months, though thousands of girls will not, having become pregnant or been married off in the intervening period.

Worth reading in full.