Stress on Local Teachers Currently 'Unacceptable'

Hammersmith Academy head blasts government last minute policy switches

Gary Kynaston - headteacher of Hammersmith Academy
Gary Kynaston - headteacher of Hammersmith Academy

Teachers have endured “unacceptable” stress from the Government’s last-minute decision making about Covid testing, cancelling exams and switching to remote learning, a local headteacher says.

Gary Kynaston, the head of Hammersmith Academy, said: “The stress that’s been put on teachers has been unacceptable. 

“We need greater clarity and early decision making. With that, schools will have the tools we need to deliver.”

It comes after a succession of announcements from the Department for Education between mid-December and when lockdown was announced last Monday (4 January).

Had pupils gone back this month, the Government’s plan was that schools would be in charge of carrying out their own mass testing, using hundreds of Lateral Flow tests that provide results in under 60 minutes.

This was despite reports from the British Medical Journal  that Lateral Flow tests can provide inaccurate results in half of cases.

Mr Kynaston said his school rounded up volunteers to run the testing, with a system that would have allowed groups of 10 to 15 pupils to be tested at a time in the Academy’s theatre.

“We now have a system in place and volunteers have come forward,” he said. 

“We’re trialling the Lateral Flow testing with vulnerable children who are still coming into school. That’s allowing us at this stage to plan and prepare.”

He added, “Under the testing system, students may have to work online [from home] in the morning while you’re trying to watch large numbers of tests coming through. 

“This is something we will have to evaluate depending on what happens. But it’s not something we have to think about for at least six weeks. Our focus has shifted to remote learning.”

Mr Kynaston also spoke about the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday (4 January) that GCSE and A Level exams have been cancelled this year. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also confirmed yesterday that SATs are cancelled.

“My own desire and every headteacher’s would always be that exams can go ahead,” Mr Kynaston said. 

“But it always seemed clear to me that this challenge with where we are now was going to come about.

“The whole point of exams is about fairness. Disadvantaged students are at great risk of being affected by the disruption and continuity is what they need. Continuity is absolutely critical at this stage.”

A new system for awarding end-of-year grades is due to be decided by the exams regulator Ofqual.

Speculating on what the new system would be like, Mr Kynaston said, “These are not easy decisions but we as schools have huge amounts of data and examples of students’ work.

“I think there will be a hybrid model of course work, previous exams, internal assessments and potentially external assessment as well. 

“But that external assessment doesn’t need to be a full examination, it just needs to be something that students can do effectively.”

He added, “It’s about making something that is fair to young people and allows them and teachers to come up with some kind of portfolio that is appropriate and will allow them to take the next step of their educational and learning lives.”

The Department for Education yesterday released a statement about exams and support for schools.

It said: “The Education Secretary expects Ofqual to consider a teacher assessed system as a replacement for GCSEs, AS and A levels. A consultation will be launched next week and conclude swiftly to give certainty to schools, colleges and students, while also giving them the opportunity to have their say.”

It also said,“Extra funding will be provided to support schools to provide food parcels or meals to eligible students. The national voucher scheme will also re-open so that in the event schools cannot offer food parcels or provide an alternative local solution, every child can access free school meals while they are learning at home.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

January 11, 2021