@GavinWilliamson says schools to remain open until the end of term
The Education Secretary has this evening (14 Dec) issued a temporary continuity direction to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, following the letter sent by the council to headteachers yesterday.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“It is simply not in children’s best interests for schools in Greenwich, Islington or elsewhere to close their doors. Schools and colleges up and down the country in all tiers have shown incredible resilience in the face of this pandemic – and it’s down to the hard work of teachers and staff that millions of children and young people have been able to benefit from a face-to-face education and be with their friends.
“I have always been clear that using legal powers is a last resort but continuity of education is a national priority. That’s why I won’t hesitate to do what is right for young people and have issued a direction to Greenwich Council setting out that they must withdraw the letter issued to headteachers on Sunday.
“The Regional Schools Commissioner will continue to work closely with Greenwich Council and schools in the borough, as we have done with schools across the country, to support them with any operational challenges they face and ensure children can continue to receive face to face education.”
If the council do not comply with the direction, then the Coronavirus Act provides for the Secretary of State to enforce the direction by applying to the High Court or the county court for an injunction (i.e. a court order requiring the council to comply).
Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“This Government really has taken a step too far. Local authorities that took the decision to move schools and colleges to online learning a few days before the end of term did so in the face of rising infection rates and for the safety and protection of their communities.
“The fact that Gavin Williamson and the Prime Minister refuse to see sense and allow the professional judgement of headteachers and local authorities to take precedent is shameful and yet another grave error of judgement in a long line of such errors. They should hang their heads in shame. Parents, students and school staff will not forgive this wilful neglect of their safety.”
Responding to the small minority of councils suggesting they will close schools early for the Christmas break, DfE said:
It remains our expectation that all schools should stay open. We will continue to work with local authorities to support them with any operational issues.
School is the best place for children and that is why we are keeping them open until the end of term, with remote learning only if a pupil has to do so in order to follow clinical or public health advice. Closing schools early risks putting many pupils at a disadvantage, none more so than GCSE and A level students preparing to take exams.
Current guidance from the department states schools should only be closed as a last resort and both the Prime Minister and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson have said that education remains a national priority.
SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) were explicit in their recommendation that schools should stay open with documents published in November highlighting that school closures put educational outcomes at risk, especially for disadvantaged students.
Recently, the ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey published results between 2 September (the start of the school year) to 16 October 2020` showed no evidence of differences in the positivity rate between primary and secondary school teachers, other key workers and other professions.
Additional analysis published on the 26 November showed no clear evidence from the survey as to whether there was a difference in the level of individuals who would test positive for COVID-19 between teachers and other key workers.
A DfE spokesperson said:
“It is a national priority to keep education settings open full time and it is vital that children remain in school until the end of the term.
“Schools, colleges and early years settings across the country have worked tremendously hard to put protective measures in place that are helping reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted and our regional school commissioner teams continue to support local authorities and school trusts to remain open and help resolve any operational issues.”
“It remains a national priority to keep schools and colleges open for all, because we know that is best for children’s education and wellbeing.
“Schools and colleges have gone above and beyond to make high-quality remote education available for those times when self-isolation is unavoidable and we remain on course to deliver, by Christmas, half a million devices to schools and councils.
“We have also allocated £1 billion to schools to support all children to catch up and are offering high-quality tuition – proven to help catch up on 3-5 months’ lost learning – to those who need it most through the National Tutoring Programme.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:
“The government’s actions over the last few days have been genuinely appalling. To level legal threats and unfair criticism at schools who are just doing as they have been instructed by their employers is not acceptable.
“Families have now been left in chaos, uncertain who to trust. Some schools have moved to online learning, with only vulnerable and key worker children attending, while some are having to force parents to continue sending their children in, despite reasonable doubts about safety given the spike in numbers, mass testing in the capital, and imminent Christmas plans. No schools have actually ‘closed’ – all are continuing to provide learning.”
- Keeping the most vulnerable children in society safe is our priority, especially those with the most complex needs. Secure children’s homes play an important role in that, and we continue to work closely with them and with other government departments to reduce the impact of the pandemic on children and young people at this time.
- Secure children home (SCH) managers throughout this period have taken the pandemic’s impact on the mental health and wellbeing of all children in their care extremely seriously. Ofsted has recently praised SCH staff for their ‘sterling work’.
- Over 340,000 laptops and tablets are being made available to schools this term to support disadvantaged children.
- This is part of over £195 million invested to support remote education and access to online social care, which included over 220,000 laptops and tablets and over 50,000 4G wireless routers to disadvantaged children already delivered to children over the summer term.
- At its peak over the summer, 27,000 laptops were delivered in a single day.
- We want to ensure there is no doubt about the roles and responsibilities within the system, and the Direction requires schools with state-funded pupils to have regard to Departmental guidance in which these expectations are set out.
- The department has announced a remote education support package, to help schools and FE providers meet remote education expectations. Many elements of the support package are already in place and more will be available over the coming months to schools and FE providers, these can be accessed through the remote education service on gov.uk.
- To support the hard work of schools in delivering remote education, the department has made £4.84 million available for Oak National Academy to provide video lessons in a broad range of subjects for Reception up to Year 11. This provides support to schools in developing the ability to switch from classroom teaching to remote provision immediately in case of local restrictions or self-isolation. Specialist content for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) is also available. Oak will remain a free optional resource for 2020-21.
- Alongside this, there is a wide range of resources available to support schools and FE colleges to meet the expectations we have set for remote education. Our “Get Help with Remote Education” page provides a one-stop-shop for teachers and leaders, signposting the support package available. This includes helping schools and colleges to access technology that supports remote education, as well as peer-to-peer training and guidance on how to use technology effectively. It also includes practical tools, a good practice guide and school-led webinars to support effective delivery of the curriculum, as well as information on issues such as safeguarding and statutory duties and expectations.
Elective home Education
- To help parents who are considering home education, we have published a blog to clearly set out their responsibilities.
- We have also made additional advice available to local authorities and continue to work closely them to encourage a return to full attendance, secure evidence about the extent of EHE enquiries and ensure decisions around home education are being made in the best interests of children.
- Parents are responsible for ensuring children of compulsory school age receive a suitable education by attendance at school, or other than at school.
- If there is a concern over the standard of home education a child is receiving local authorities already have substantial powers including being able to request that parents show the education at home is efficient, and suitable to the needs and age of the child.
- Home education is never a decision that should be entered into lightly, and now more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home educate is made with the child’s best interests at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Referrals to social care
- Keeping the youngest and most vulnerable children safe is a priority for this Government, which is why the Children’s Minister has asked council chiefs and local safeguarding partnerships to prioritise support for families and babies throughout the pandemic.
- We have taken urgent action to help councils and frontline professionals support infants, and in particular we welcome the message from Chief Nurses that community health nurses services should be maintained this winter. We remain committed to reducing harm to infants, informed by recommendations of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel which we established to identify best practice to support vulnerable children such as these.
Ofsted on Covid Isolation
Commenting on the Ofsted inspectorate’s third and final set of reports on the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on children and young people,
Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“It is hugely concerning that Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) children are not doing as well as their peers in terms of coping with remote learning. However, the playing field is not level in terms of students having access to IT equipment at home. Many SEND students will require assistive technology and programmes which schools are unable to provide.
“We know that repeated periods of isolation will be harmful to students in general, but particularly for those with SEND, and that the lack of access to external support services, such as speech & language therapies and delays to assessment processes and EHC plans, is having a harmful effect on young people. This again is not the fault of schools, but of a Government which is consistently underfunding SEND support. Ensuring every child gets the education they deserve and need cannot be done on the cheap.
“We are concerned that more children are being taken out of school to be home-schooled because of parental concerns about Covid safety, increasing unsupported mental health issues and undiagnosed special needs due to CAMHS and local authority services cuts. Many parents of pupils who need mental health support and do not get it remove their children due to fears of being fined or worse. We agree that Ofsted is right to be concerned about these out of sight students and believe that they should be pressing the government to improve mental health services and support to these schools, young people and families, many of whom have reached a crisis point made worse by Covid.”