Things to look forward to in spring 2021

This spring term may be more uncertain than any that have gone before. Teachers deserve a big thank you for all their hard work during 2020 but, as I write, there is still a lack of clarity over exactly how the new term will start, which students will return and under what conditions, and whether school staff will be prioritised for vaccination. Despite this, there is still plenty to look forward to this spring and perhaps the familiar events of the school calendar may help us look towards a brighter future in uncertain times.

January

The first half of this term is time to take part in the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch – now in its 20th year. This six-week window provides plenty of time for pupils to get involved in some citizen science by surveying the birds visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. Registration is open now. Pupils who are learning remotely from home could take part in the Big Garden Bird Watch on the weekend starting Friday 29 January.

Registration for the Show Racism the Red Card Schools Competition 2021 is open from the start of January until 19 February. 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of SRtRC and young people can enter work about fighting racism in any medium – art work, creative writing, song, and film. You can find out more on the competition pages of the SRtRC website. The deadline for entries is 5 March.

Wednesday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year, the theme is Be the light in the darkness and explores the ways individuals resisted the darkness to be the light before, during and after genocide. Young people are asked to submit photos on this theme, the best of which will be used in an online exhibition. You can find more information on the HMDT website. Update, 27 January: The selected photos can now be viewed in the online exhibition.

February

Tuesday 9 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety. The theme for 2021 is An internet we trust which explores reliability in the online world. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Friday 12 February is Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese communities throughout the world, which this year ushers in the Year of the Ox.

16 February is Shrove Tuesday (or ‘Pancake Day’) when, in the UK pancakes are traditionally made to use up eggs and sugar before the start of Lent, in the Christian calendar, on the next day, Ash Wednesday.

Monday 22 February is the start of Fairtrade Fortnight which runs until 7 March. The theme for 2021 is Climate, fair trade and you which focuses on the links between climate action and fair trade. You can find out more, order school resources, or request a virtual school visit from a speaker, from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Thursday 25 February is the first day of the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

March

Monday 1 March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales. While not an official Bank Holiday in Wales, some schools may have a half-day holiday.

Thursday 4 March is World Book Day in the UK. You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. A selection of £1 books that can be purchased with WBD tokens has already been announced.

British Science Week, the ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths, runs from Friday 5 to Sunday 14 March. The theme this year is Innovating for our future and will include a poster competition. You can find out more from the British Science Week website.

This year 14 March is also the date for Mothering Sunday in the UK, although the date varies internationally.

Tuesday 16 March is Young Carers Action Day, with a change of focus from the previous Awareness day and a move from its previous date in January. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on Protecting Young Carers’ Futures. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website.

Wednesday 17 March is St Patrick’s Day when a quite extraordinary proportion of the world population discovers its Irish roots. It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

Friday 19 March is Red Nose Day, the biennial fundraising event for the charity Comic Relief which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. This year, in response to environmental concerns, the red noses are entirely plastic-free. You can find out more, and order red noses for school, from the Comic Relief website.

The Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown on Saturday 27 March and ends at nightfall on Sunday 4 April, coinciding with the Christian Easter Sunday.

By now we will all be noticing the hours of daylight lengthening and the clocks go forward by an hour early in the morning of Sunday 28 March, marking the start of British Summer Time. This day is also Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. For some schools this week will be the first of the Easter holiday: others will break up during the week.

Monday 29 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of spring.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from 29 March until 4 April. This year the week will include virtual and home-based activities. You can find out more and register for the schools’ newsletter from the National Autistic Society website.

April

Thursday 1st April is April Fool’s Day, which will make for an interesting last day of term for some schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

The Good Friday bank holiday is on 2 April this year, with Easter Sunday on 4 April, and the bank holiday on the Monday. Last year, Easter celebrations were muted by the first lockdown. Let’s hope that by this point in the year in 2021, a successful vaccination programme will be in full swing and we will be able to share the holiday with friends and family.

This list should contain something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

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Thank you teachers!

A huge thank you to teachers, teaching assistants, and all school staff for how you have risen to the challenges of an extraordinary year.

2020 has been the most challenging year for as all as we have coped with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a parent, and a teacher who now works with schools in the cultural sector, I have watched with admiration at how teachers have risen to this challenge.

First, schools coped with staff shortages as colleagues became ill or had to isolate. Suddenly lock-down was upon us and teachers across the land had to get to grips with remote teaching and learning. Many parents tackling home learning gained a new-found appreciation of what teaching entails!

With incredible speed, teachers got to grips with setting work remotely and learning how to use MS Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet to work with colleagues and teach. Phrases like “virtual lesson”, “zoom bomb”, and “you’re still on mute” became part of everyday language.

Not that schools ever closed (no, Daily Fail, they really didn’t). Heads kept their schools open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Even as much of the nation’s workforce was furloughed, teachers not only kept going but upped their game. Many had to juggle teaching in school, setting work for pupils at home, looking after their own children, and keeping an eye out for the needs of elderly or vulnerable family members, friends, or neighbours.

Those teaching children in assessment years also had to provide, not only teacher assessed grades, but individual rankings of pupils in every subject. As it turned out, these grades would become the results for many pupils as the ‘Ofqual algorithm’ turned out not to be fit for purpose.

Following that gargantuan effort, the start of the new academic year required teachers to meet a whole new set of challenges. I’m pretty certain that there are few people in the DfE who would have the first clue how to organise 30 five year olds (or 15 year olds) to sanitise or wash their hands many times a day – but you did! Despite ever-changing guidance from the Secretary of State, often contradictory, confusing, and at short notice, schools dealt with it all, kept everyone safe, and enabled children to learn.

No sooner was there some semblance of normality than lockdown 2 was upon us. Again, schools kept going. Whatever Tier we were in, the schools were open, juggling ‘burst bubbles’ of children and staff isolating following positive tests, but still ensuring lessons went ahead and work kept being set.

Finally, at the end of the year, when teachers might have taken a moment from editing the KS1 virtual nativity play to look forward to a well-earned Christmas break, schools received an unwelcome present. No, not Nick Gibb “allowing” an Inset day before Christmas. Not Gavin Williamson’s threat of a Christmas court case for Greenwich council. No, the seasonal double whammy, delivered to school leaders in the now traditional manner of rumours on social media and a leak to the press, is that there will be a staggered start in January, so that schools can roll out their new responsibility for Covid testing!

So, as it seems that the thanks all teachers and school staff deserve for their unwaveringly fantastic work in 2020 is unlikely to come from either the press or Mr Williamson, let me say as a parent and, frankly awe-stuck colleague:

“Thank you!”

Crunchy on the outside. A new blog for and by young entomologists.

Do you know a young person who is interested in the natural world and insects in particular? They might enjoy crunchyontheoutside.com a new blog I edit from the Museum of Natural History of the University of Oxford.

Crunchy on the outside is aimed at young people who are fascinated by insects and who are perhaps getting too old for family activities. It’s part of the Museum’s HOPE for the future project.

The blog features four elements:

Nature is all about insects and the crucial part they play in the natural environment.

People focuses on entomologists including figures from the past and those working with insects today.

Museum gives an insight behind the scenes into life and work at the UK’s second largest entomological collection.

Make and Do features great makes and things to try out for yourself.

We’re really keen for young people to put their questions to entomologists at the museum, to make suggestions for blog posts, and even write guest posts.

Why not take a look and pass on the message to anyone you know who would be interested?

Supporting Learning: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

One event that had become a regular feature of the schools’ education programme at the Bodleian Libraries is the annual study day for A Level English Literature students studying Chaucer.

It hasn’t been possible to a physical event this year, so the event will move online. This has allowed us to explore ways in which the event can be accessible to a greater range of schools, beyond those who can make the journey to Oxford.

We are adopting a blended approach of asynchronous and synchronous learning. Students will be able to access recorded resources at any time, in preparation for a live Q&A event with specialist academics.

The first elements are recordings of two talks by lecturers which we have made available on the Bodleian’s Resources for Teachers web pages. Dr Nicholas Perkins discusses how understanding medieval books and the interpretation of texts in Chaucer’s time can help to deepen our reading of Chaucer’s work. Dr Marion Turner explores Chaucer’s tale collection genre and its social, political, and poetic contexts. Both talks include closed captions.

I hope these will be useful to those teaching or learning about the Canterbury Tales. As always, I welcome constructive comments, so do let me know what you think.

If you liked these resources, you might also be interested in my post on the history of medicine.