Schoolchildren

Exams in Chaos as Invigilators Refuse to Return Over “Fears of Catching Covid”

Schoolchildren face further disruption in their exams this summer because of a shortage of invigilators, which unions are blaming on a fear of catching Covid in ‘unsafe’ school environments. MailOnline has more.

A warning from the Association of School and College Leaders says the shortfalls are having to be covered by other staff as well as parents on some occasions.

The union thinks the lower number of invigilators is down to them finding alternative work coupled with concerns over contracting coronavirus in schools.

But despite the ASCL sounding the alarm, the Department for Education said it was confident schools could cope – insisting they would have “robust plans in place”.

ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton said invigilator shortages meant schools had to train their own staff to do it.

He added: “It is also clear that there are sufficient difficulties in recruiting enough invigilators. It would obviously reassure these staff if free Covid testing was available for exam students and we once again appeal to the government to make this simple and obvious provision.

“We also have to question whether it is right to continue to subject young people to such a huge number of high-stakes terminal exams at GCSE as is the case in the current system.

“Stress and anxiety were already problems pre-pandemic. It must surely be possible to slim down the exam system and make it more proportionate and humane.”

Usually every 30 students need to have one invigilator covering them, but the number has been increased to 40 due to the shortfall.

Rules forbidding teachers from supervising their own subjects have also been relaxed.

Somehow I suspect that the main reason is the general worker shortage, while the gripe about Covid safety is just the usual OTT health and safety moaning from the unions.

Worth reading in full.

What Are We Doing to Our Children?

There follows a guest post by Hugh McCarthy, a retired Headteacher in Northern Ireland who until recently served as a Director on two of the province’s main education councils and who remains a ministerial appointment on one. He is horrified by what society has inflicted on children over the past two years in the name of combating a virus from which they are not at risk – and all as the evidence piled up of how much it was harming them.

I welcome the recent Ofsted report highlighting the damaging effects of the Covid restrictions on the development and learning of young children. It highlights a huge range of damaging impacts, including:

  • delays in babies’ physical development
  • a generation of babies struggling to crawl and communicate
  • babies suffering delays in learning to walk
  • babies struggling to respond to basic facial expression.
  • toddlers struggling to make friends, with their speech and language, and toileting independently
  • regression in children’s independence 
  • children with limited vocabulary

The report also highlights the ongoing negative impact of face masks on young children’s language and communication skills, noting that those turning two years old will have been surrounded by adults wearing masks and who have therefore been unable to see lip movements or mouth shapes regularly.

The observations of Ruth Sedgewick, the Head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland, back up what the reports says.

Primary School Pupils Up to Six Months Behind in Maths Because of Lockdown

After just the first lockdown, data suggest that average primary school pupils in England were 3.6 months behind the level in maths that pre-pandemic years had achieved at the same stage, rising to almost six months in Yorkshire and the Humber. The Telegraph has more.

In normal times, there is a shocking poverty gap when it comes to how our children do at school. By the time they arrive for their very first day, disadvantaged kids are already four months’ learning behind their more privileged peers. Yet these are not normal times. Two years of Covid shutdowns have led to educational consequences that grimly rival those of a deprived upbringing – but for all.

After the first lockdown, for example, the latest data suggests average primary school pupils were 3.6 months adrift of the level in maths that pre-pandemic years had achieved at the same stage. Children in some parts of the country fared far worse. In Yorkshire and the Humber, the gap was 5.7 months. When it came to reading, primary children unlucky enough to find themselves in the Covid cohort were on average just under two months behind. 

The question now for teachers, parents and the Government is whether they will ever catch up, or whether the years of disruption they have encountered today will cascade through the rest of their lives, impacting university and career prospects and their personal lives, too. 

It was never meant to be like this. But temporary emergency measures have morphed into a two-year trial, with repeated lockdowns, homeschooling, and the pingdemic puncturing entire class bubbles. Still, it goes on.

In January, almost one in 12 teachers was off work. Last week, MPs declared the Government’s £5 billion National Tutoring Programme to help disadvantaged children ‘level up’ after Covid to be a costly failure. Meanwhile, according to the Centre for Social Justice, 100,000 “ghost children” – those who miss more than half their school sessions – have almost entirely disappeared from education since last year’s return to schools.

Making good will not be easy. Deprived children may start school only four months behind, but generally they don’t catch up. According to Natalie Perera, CEO of the Education Policy Institute (EPI), by the time they leave education, the gap has widened to 18 months. So will Britain’s Covid cohort suffer a similar fate? …

Repeated lockdowns are likely to take a significant toll on young people’s physical health given that, in 2019, a study suggested that people were 6.85% less likely to report poor health in later life for one additional year of schooling.

Meanwhile, surveyed by the charity Young Minds, two-thirds of children said they expected repeated lockdowns to leave long-term scars on their mental health. This is borne out by teachers who have seen children regress, not just in their studies, but in their social behaviour. Suddenly, the function of classrooms not just as places of learning, but of pastoral care, has become all too evident.

Many places saw a rise in children referred to social services. In Middlesbrough, the number rose by 40% year on year. As Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, wrote in her recent annual report: “This was a difficult year to be young, and a challenging time to be learning. In all phases of education in 2020/21, most children and young people have learned less than they normally would have done. For many, the loss of education, disrupted routine and lack of physical and other activities led to physical and mental health problems. Loneliness, boredom and misery became endemic among the young.”

Worth reading in full.

Why are the BBC and YouTube STILL Censoring Views Critical of Masks?

There follows a guest post by Jeffrey Peel, who was shocked to discover that, despite mask mandates in England, Wales and Northern Ireland being history, the BBC and YouTube are still censoring views that criticise masks, including cutting off a guest mid-sentence.

Last week I was in London. Part of the reason was to attend a meeting of Together, the campaign organisation that’s behind the Together Declaration. It was last July when the organisation last had a big meeting, so I was looking forward to seeing Alan Miller and others who have been campaigning so hard over the last months against Government proposed mandates: masks, vaccination and digital IDs.

However, just before leaving my hotel for the meeting, I had an email from Hugh McCarthy, a former Head Teacher and well known education specialist. Hugh had been invited on to a BBC news and current affairs programme on BBC Radio Ulster. The show is hosted by William Crawley. However, during the programme, when Hugh was outlining how masks in the classroom get in the way of the teaching process, and impede the ability of teachers and children to communicate, he was taken off air. Literally when he was mid-sentence.

I had a similar experience to Hugh when I last appeared on the programme on December 18th, 2020. Crawley’s way is to talk over, shout down, or bully guests that don’t agree with the BBC Covid narrative (on the rare occasions they’re invited on). However, the Chief Medical Officer or Chief Scientific Adviser are treated to uninterrupted reverence.

Forcing Children to Wear Masks is Dystopian, Says Gruffalo Author Julia Donaldson

Forcing pupils to wear facemasks in the classroom is dystopian and critics should not be smeared as Covid-deniers, children’s author Julia Donaldson has said. The Times has the story.

The creator of The Gruffalo said that she feared the use of face coverings in schools was becoming normalised and that children’s education should not be “sacrificed” to protect the NHS.

Donaldson, 73, has written around 200 books, many of which have been adapted for television and stage. The Gruffalo has sold more than 13 million copies and been translated into more than 100 languages.

The former secondary school English teacher and former children’s laureate said: “Even if the current proposals are only for three weeks, this could be repeated and become something considered normal whenever there is infection, whereas in fact it should not be considered normal, it is alien – even dystopian.

“Children are children for such a short time, I don’t think they should be sacrificed like this.”

“They’re seen as a gesture that isn’t costing the government any money and as something that is not doing any harm. Because of the climate of fear, people have readily accepted something I regard as unacceptable, and that I fear may now be seen as a normal part of life.”

She told the Times that it was vital for teachers to be able to read pupils’ facial expressions during lessons and that many people were too scared to speak out against face masks in case of a social media backlash.

“There is too much polarity. It’s unfortunate that the start of Covid coincided with the US election,” she said. “People were equating any arguments against lockdown or masks with being a Republican or Trumpian.”

Donaldson, who has been left with a long-term Covid symptom called parosmia, which makes smells seem overpowering and food taste disgusting, said: “I’m very pro-vaccination. I’ve been triple-jabbed. I’ve had Covid. I’m not a denier.

“You don’t have to be right-wing [to oppose masks in schools]. I know a lot of people who are passionately anti-lockdown because they’re very sympathetic to the plight of lonely and vulnerable people or those with mental illness.”

The article notes that “a study used to justify the introduction of masks in English schools implied they had at best a marginal effect” and quotes the pro-lockdown scientist Dr Simon Clarke saying: “As the report points out, face coverings can become contaminated quickly, so repeated putting them on and taking them off, and touching them, could present an opportunity for viral transmission. Expecting children to wear them properly all day and to keep them clean is somewhat optimistic. An unwashed face covering worn daily will quickly become akin to wearing a dirty handkerchief across your face.”

When even the Times and lockdown fanatics are speaking out against an intervention, you know there’s something in the air.

Worth reading in full.

The Government’s Case for Masks in Classrooms Accidentally Reveals They’re a Terrible Idea

The Government on Wednesday published the evidence informing its recent controversial decision to recommend all secondary school pupils wear face masks in classrooms.

The new document from the Department for Education (DfE) explains that the decision “has been taken on the recommendation of UKHSA and is based on a range of evidence”. It says the Government has “balanced education and public health considerations, including the benefits in managing infection and transmission, against any educational and wider health and wellbeing impacts from the recommended use of face coverings”.

While conceding that the “direct COVID-19 health risks to children and young people are very low” – and rejecting SAGE’s advice to recommend masks in primary school classrooms (yes, really) – it claims that “the balance of risks for secondary classrooms has changed at this point in time, in accordance with the evolving evidence and the phase of the pandemic”.

The document summarises its evidence as follows:

Face coverings can be effective in contributing to reducing transmission of COVID-19 in public and community settings. This is informed by a range of research, including randomised control trials, contact tracing studies, and observational studies – assessed most recently by UKHSA, described in a review conducted in November 2021. The review’s conclusions were broadly in line with those of a previous Public Health England review; however, the addition of randomised control trials and substantially more individual-level observational studies increases the strength of the conclusions and strengthens the evidence for the effectiveness of face coverings in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the community, through source control, wearer protection, and universal masking.

In fact, though, the UKHSA review from November 2021 found no high quality studies (except, it claims, the ONS study, which really isn’t high quality). Of the two randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that have been done and which were cited by the UKHSA, the one from Denmark found no statistically significant reduction in COVID-19 incidence from surgical masks (the study didn’t look at cloth masks) while the Bangladesh mask study found no benefit from cloth masks and the reported benefit from surgical masks was just 11%, with a 95% confidence interval that included zero. The UKHSA review also considered 23 observational studies, which it said had “mixed” results and many of which were of low quality and small.

This does not seem a strong basis to claim a large effect for mask wearing. A recent more comprehensive review (which included earlier evidence for other flu-like viruses) by Ian Liu, Vinay Prasad and Jonathan Darrow for the Cato Institute, entitled “Evidence for Community Cloth Face Masking to Limit the Spread of SARS‐​CoV‑2: A Critical Review“, concluded that: “More than a century after the 1918 influenza pandemic, examination of the efficacy of masks has produced a large volume of mostly low- to moderate-quality evidence that has largely failed to demonstrate their value in most settings.”

That is a better summary of the evidence than the DfE managed.

Needless to say, the DfE gives the propaganda value of masking a nod: “It can be a visible outward signal of safety behaviour and a reminder of COVID-19 risks.”

Notably, there is no mention in this document of the potential harms of wearing a mask for an extended period, such as the impact on breathing, the heart, or the skin. Contamination gets a brief mention, though it’s quickly dismissed:

Wearing Face Masks in School Classrooms is Not a Requirement, Government Guidance Shows

Despite widespread reports that masks are to be required in classrooms as pupils return to schools across the country today, the updated Government guidance shows that this is only a recommendation, not a requirement. Here is the relevant section (emphasis mine).

Where pupils in Year 7 (which would be children who were aged 11 on August 31st 2021) and above are educated, we recommend that face coverings should be worn by pupils, staff and adult visitors when moving around the premises, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas. This is a temporary measure.

From January 4th, we also recommend that in those schools where pupils in Year 7 and above are educated, face coverings should be worn in classrooms. This does not apply in situations where wearing a face covering would impact on the ability to take part in exercise or strenuous activity, for example in PE lessons. This will also be a temporary measure. …

We would not ordinarily expect teachers to wear a face covering in the classroom if they are at the front of the class, to support education delivery, although settings should be sensitive to the needs of individual teachers. …

Face coverings do not need to be worn when outdoors.

Schools, as employers, have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 which includes making reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. They also have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils, to support them to access education successfully. No pupil should be denied education on the grounds that they are not wearing a face covering.

It should be noted that this is guidance for schools rather than pupils, so a school might decide to follow the Government recommendation by requiring its pupils to wear face masks. However, they should still not deny education to pupils if they do not wear one. The usual exemptions also apply, including where wearing a mask causes “severe distress” and “to avoid the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others” (and let’s face it, how can covering your mouth and nose for most of the day with an item that obstructs breathing, gathers germs, contains harmful levels of toxic substances, and prevents normal human interaction not put you at risk of harm?).

Government coronavirus guidance can be found here.

If readers have any stories of pupils being penalised for not wearing a mask you can email us here.

Thousands of English Schoolchildren Forced to Wear Masks

Thousands of children were told to wear masks when they returned to school today after the half-term break, in spite of zero evidence that masks suppress transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools. The Daily Mail has more.

Schools in the East of England will be urged to reimpose the measure on top of mass testing to halt an increase in coronavirus cases in the region, it emerged yesterday.

“Targeted local action” will affect more than 1.5million people living in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Suffolk.

The plans include asking secondary schools to make masks compulsory in communal areas, as well as the return of routine onsite rapid testing for pupils.

The measures – which will be in place for at least five weeks – were announced by the Health Security Agency, the organisation which has replaced Public Health England.

Extra vaccination and testing teams will also be deployed to the East of England to try and tackle the spread of the virus.

Similar restrictions could be rolled out across other parts of the country this winter if they also see a spike in cases.

Worth reading in full.