Today’s message comes directly from me, and it’s a response to yesterday’s news: ‘Plans for all England’s primary children to return for a month before the summer break have been dropped by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’. This is a difficult message to write because I’ve always tried to avoid presenting my own personal views on the tough times we’re currently in.
The government’s plan that children in Early Years, Year 1 and Year 6 should return to school was not one of the options that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) evaluated. In fact, SAGE recommended a rota system, where small groups from all year groups returned on a rota – one week in school, one week not. (This is similar to what the Welsh Government is doing, for example.)
The government’s plan to have all primary school pupils back at school for the last few weeks was always destined to be very much an ambition rather than than a realistic plan if systems to support it weren’t properly up-and-running. We’ve seen delays in accessing a test for Covid-19, which I hear from headteacher colleagues are still a problem, and the track and trace system not yet fully operational.
The issue facing us now is challenging. Schools in England followed the guidance coming from the Department for Education – we can’t realistically un-do what we were advised to do. Parents were led to feel confident and optimistic that even if their child didn’t return to school at the start of June, they would be back at school for at least the last few weeks.
The next steps
We need well-thought through plans from government that are developed with school leaders and not simply presented to them. The plans need to be ready for different scenarios.
The best-case scenario is that in September, all our current pupils will be back at school in September. But that doesn’t mean things are back to normal – we still need a plan. We need to adapt our curriculum. This is so that we can support children’s wellbeing even more than we normally do, and so that we can adapt what we teach so children can catch up on learning they’ve missed. We need to be able to do this with at least the support of, and at best the guidance from, government and Ofsted.
Where I read about concerns that schools may not be back to normal by September, they mainly relate to secondary schools having all pupils back. I’m cautiously optimistic that for primaries, this will happen. However, we need to be prepared for things not going to plan…
A worst-case scenario is that the virus remains widespread and we’re in a position similar to what we have now. I’d love to be able to go back in time, ignore the government’s ‘roadmap’, and put in place a better and fairer way to have all children in school for at least some regular time. We can’t realistically do that right now, but it would definitely be a a better way to start the new school year: all children attending school at least on a rota basis.
In a meeting with Leeds headteachers and Leeds councillors yesterday, I put forward the need for longer-term thinking and encouraged them to lobby the government more to do this. I’ll back up what I said with a more detailed picture of what I’ve said here. I’ll also be sending this to my own trade union, the NAHT. They have taken, in my opinion, a pragmatic, proactive and productive approach. I’m hoping the government might listen more than it has done to the views of this particular union.
Finally, some thanks. First of all, from the very start of the challenges we’ve faced, way back in March, the support from you has been so appreciated. You’ve encouraged us, guided us, thanked us – for all your feedback, I’m very grateful. Thank you.
Tomorrow’s message comes from Rachel Greenhalgh, the Chair of Governors for Sphere Federation. Friday’s message is directly from the Head of School and presents a school-specific picture of our school at this strange transition point.