Ten Things to look forward to in Autumn 2020

I have been writing these ‘things to look forward to’ posts at the start of each school term for a few years now. Of course, 2020 was the year everything changed. Like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate at the start of the year that we would all have to cope with lockdown and then adjust to living with COVID-19.

Nevertheless, after all the planning as schools prepare to return for the start of the new school year, there is still plenty for us to look forward to. Many events will have changed their format, but hopefully their essential character, and importance to schools, will remain the same.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. It may not feel like it, following a chilly August bank holiday weekend, but we still have a few weeks of (hopefully) warmer days and longer evenings before the nights really draw in. British Summer Time ends when the clocks go back on Sunday 25th October.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember that feeling when you wrote your name on a new exercise book and opened the first fresh page full of possibilities. This year, more than ever before, children will have that same feeling. This is an opportunity to help them capture that feeling and go on to achieve great things!
  3. During the lockdown, many of us noticed the natural world more than ever before and took solace from spring blooms, birdsong and other signs of environmental renewal. Now we can take delight from the many signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, later in the year? Which fruits are ripening and which leaves are changing colour? Which birds and other animals do you notice? Noting such changes helps us see that no two days are alike. You can find ideas on how to safely get more actively involved on this Wildlife Trusts’ webpage on Looking After Yourself and Nature.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning is now in its 30th year and has become a firm fundraising fixture in many schools. This year it is taking a different format and is running throughout September. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2020 and find further information on running safe, socially distanced events here: Coffee Morning Guidance.
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. In recent months Black Lives Matter has drawn our attention to the work that remains to be done to tackle racism across British society, including decolonialising the curriculum. Perhaps this October can be a focus in addressing these issues not only for one month but all year round. You can find out more about events and activities throughout the year, and order a school resource pack, from blackhistorymonth.org.uk. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you.
  1. There are a wealth of other key dates, holidays and festivals you may wish to mark during the Autumn term, including:
  • Saturday 19 September Rosh Hashana
  • Tuesday 22 September Autumn Equinox
  • Monday 28 September Yom Kippur
  • 31 October Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve
  • 1 November All Saints’ Day
  • 2 November All Souls’ Day
  • Sunday 8 November Remembrance Sunday, with Armistice Day falling on Wednesday 11 November
  • Saturday 14 November Diwali / Deepavali
  • Sunday 29 November Start of Advent
  • Monday 30 November Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day with a bank holiday
  • Friday 11 December is the First Day of Hanukkah, with the Last Day falling on Friday 18 December
  • Monday 21 December Winter Solstice
  1. Your school may already be involved in one of the many National and international Awareness events that take place in the Autumn term. This year, many organisers have modified their events to enable teachers to take a more flexible approach. As well as being Black History Month, October is also time for the annual Big Draw, with artistic events around the country. Registration is now open for the 2020 Big Draw Festival and this year’s theme is #ClimateOfChange. A fundraising event that has become a regular fixture in many schools is Jeans for Genes Day. This year, the format is more flexible with schools able to hold their day at any time during the week beginning Monday 14 September. You can find out more and register at jeansforgenesday.org. We are all encouraged to #ShareAPoem on National Poetry Day on Thursday 1 October. You can download free resources from the education pages of the NPD Website. Many groups and charities that receive funding from the annual BBC Children in Need appeal have been helping disadvantaged children and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. This year’s event is planned for Friday 13 November. Another event featuring in the calendar of many schools is Anti-Bullying Week, which this year takes place between Monday 16 and Friday 20 November. The theme is ‘United Against Bullying’ and you can get more information and resources from the Anti-bullying Alliance.
  2. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, humans have responded by making lights and loud noises for as long as history records. In the UK, our excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks is now Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November. Worth a reminder about firework safety and undoubtedly there will be additional guidance on staying safe.
  3. Some of the best school traditions happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it. Whatever guidance is in place to keep us safe this winter, it’s probably worth checking your Christmas jumper for moth holes, changing the battery for the LED lights in your elf hat, and starting to plan the school Nativity Play right now.
  4. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year! Here’s looking forward to 2021!

What do you most look forward to in Autumn? Let me know if there are any dates or events that I’ve missed here.

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation.

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby


This year, more than ever, schools can make all the difference on results day

Last week we experienced the extraordinary turmoil around A Level results. In the face of the downgrading debacle, students now have the option to use the grades provided by teachers. Unfortunately that Government announcement came too late for many to take up university places this year.

Whether through inherent biases in the system, incompetency in those in charge of the process, or a mixture of both, the awarding of grades in a year when exams were not taken has become a farce. But while A level students, and their aspirations for their educational future have been caught in the middle of that farce, the same need not be true for GCSE students.

For most students, progression from GCSEs will be to sixth forms and FE colleges. It’s those sixth forms and colleges that have the power to make a difference on results day, despite the controversies that have led up to it.

At the time of writing I’m not exactly sure what grades year 11 (including my own son) will be getting on Thursday – those from Ofqual’s algorithm? the CAGs? The best of the two, or perhaps one this week and the other next? does anybody know?!*

Whatever is in those envelopes, school staff will know the grades that they gave students and are in the position to offer them their next educational opportunity. For GCSEs, this means that it’s schools that are in the position to tackle each of the iniquities – of disadvantage, school type, geography, and background- that arose for the A Level results. whatever the failures of the system set up to deliver grades this year, those failures don’t have to impact on the class of 2020.

It’s been an extraordinary year. Now, more than ever, students deserve access to the extraordinary individual futures that sixth form and college education can provide. Some schools have already announced their intention to provide this, I hope all will follow.

*Today (Wednesday 19/8/20) My son’s school notified parents that they would be emailing the highest grade for each subject out of the CAG and algorithm-generated grade.

Supporting Learning: Teaching Study Skills

Last month, I wrote about a series of Study Skills Guides I had produced as part of my work at The Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. They are available online as part of our OxLibris programme.

I have now finished a set of tutorials that take students through the topics covered. These are Primarily designed to help students taking the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) but they are applicable to any coursework or essay research. They are a development of teaching resources we have previously delivered in schools, or to school groups visiting libraries. These units are intended to either be used as a teaching aid in school or college, or for students to work through independently.

The five tutorials form a set covering good academic practice. Alternatively, each can be used as a stand-alone unit. Once a tutorial has been covered, the accompanying study skills guide acts as a handy single page aide memoir for students as they carry out their own research.

Effective Online Research covers how to form a precise research question, the limitations of search engines, and how to use advanced search engine tools for more effective online research.

Evaluating Online Resources shows students how to evaluate the quality of information from online resources, cross-reference sources and spot fake news.

Effective Note Taking covers how to take more effective notes that focus on connecting ideas and concepts to reinforce your learning. The unit uses Cornell Notes as an example of an effective tried-and-tested system.

Avoiding Plagiarism Shows students how to ensure that they acknowledge their sources of information correctly and fulfil the requirement to avoid plagiarism in their work.

Referencing covers how to reference sources of information in work using in-text citations and a bibliography. The unit explores how to use two referencing systems: the Harvard name-date system and the recurrent number system.

I hope you find these learning units helpful, either in your teaching or as resources to support students’ independent learning. Please do let me know what you think of them in the comments. I welcome suggestions for improvements, or for additional topics.

If you’re interested in effective study, you might like my earlier post on music and revision.