- Just 18% of English state-school teachers who work with pupils due to sit assessment or exams this year say that their students have covered more than 90% of the curriculum content. This is in light of Covid disruption, and a real concern for our members.
- Regional variations show that the level of preparedness is related to levels of Covid disruption around the country during the Omicron outbreak.
- Primary schools have fared worse. A lack of Covid mitigations (compared to secondary schools) and increased disruption mean they have been less able to cover most of the curriculum.
The State of Education survey is an extensive look at the current mood of the profession, the challenges facing teachers, support staff and school and college leaders, and what they wish to see from Government. We are releasing the findings over the course of Annual Conference.
Learning Time Lost
Overall, respondents to our survey tell us that due to Covid disruption schools have been starved of the time to adequately cover all of the curriculum content expected of them ahead of nationally set assessments such as reading, writing and maths tests in primary schools, and GCSEs and A-Levels at secondary schools.
Whereas 29% of secondary respondents feel the vast majority of the curriculum has been covered (i.e. 90% content or more) this drops sharply to 8% in primary schools, special schools and PRUs. A significant number – 35% in primary, 25% in secondary – believe that around two thirds or less of curriculum content has been adequately covered.
Teachers in the South East of England were most likely to believe their pupils would be able to cover the whole curriculum, and also most likely to think they could cover at least 90%. By contrast, the lowest levels of confidence in getting the curriculum covered were reported by teachers in Yorkshire and the Humber. Pupil experiences have varied in the past two years by region, with different waves of the pandemic causing differing levels of pupil absence, while disadvantage has been linked to varying amounts of learning loss. The East Midlands, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber were all badly hit during the Omicron wave.
Has Government done enough?
"It would have been better for the advanced information to come out earlier [...] we could have planned to effectively teach everything with an emphasis on what would be in the exam."
In terms of both providing advance information, and equipping schools with the mitigations to protect against Covid outbreaks, the Government has been found wanting.
There is a strikingly negative response from respondents in primary schools. Since December 2021, primary schools – which are generally smaller and less protected from Covid – have faced much greater disruption than secondary schools. This has made the delivery of curriculum content more challenging. Consequently, 93% of primary school respondents believe the government has not done enough to support them. 68% of secondary school respondents and 84% working in special/PRU agree that Government actions to date will not give all students a fair chance in exams.
"No teacher I know thinks the insistence of keeping SATs in place is a good idea but we feel unable to do anything about it."
"It seems pointless given that Key Stage 1 SATs data will not be used for anything. The focus should be on the children and their wellbeing and needs, not on desperately trying to 'catch-up' and cram for tests that don't tell teachers anything they don't already know about the children in their class."
"The insistence on going ahead with SATs is placing a ridiculous amount of pressure on staff and pupils - we are rushing to fill gaps in learning and are teaching to the test rather than giving the pupils a broad curriculum and time to explore and expand their experience and knowledge."
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
"It is a truism to say that children have one chance at education, but this has rarely been as starkly seen as during the pandemic. The government has failed to get a grip on exams for two successive years. It appeared determined to achieve the hat trick when it spent months dragging its heels on the publication of advice for 2022. It is inevitable that school leaders, teachers and support staff feel the strain. Their work is made harder by this government, and as this survey shows very many of them feel let down and abandoned.
“The NEU always argued that advanced information must come at the start of the academic year. Instead, it came just in time for revision. This does little or nothing to help students and teachers prioritise their teaching and learning and therefore mitigate the differential lost learning. The gaps in content coverage are now down to chance, with the government being the sole architect of this lottery.
“Primary schools have felt this acutely, and their anger in this survey is abundantly clear. They are under particular pressure to deliver reading, writing and mathematics tests, while at the same time mitigations are snatched away and Covid waves rip through the school system. The government is failing pupils first and foremost, but also the leaders, teachers and support staff who work so hard for them each and every day.”
The National Education Union State of Education survey was conducted online through membership and received 1,788 responses from English state-school teachers between 24 February – 8 March 2022. The relevant data tables are provided.
Note to editors
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- The National Education Union stands up for the future of education. It brings together the voices of more than 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and leaders working in maintained and independent schools and colleges across the UK, to form the largest education union in Europe.
- It is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing its members in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
The National Education Union is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.