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Opening up a can of worms

With the Prime Minister’s familiar use of megaphone management at a safe distance from consequences over the weekend and the DfE hastily compiling a listing of can-do, should-do must-do theoretical guidelines, the education community is facing a problem.

Schools have been publicly thrown down the professional gauntlet of opening up again “from” June 1st – and this of course is linked intrinsically to the government seeking an end to economic paralysis and lockdown.

Without education serving to provide “childcare” as it has been described by the DfE, then a return to work is more problematic. It is duplicitous to suggest that the government’s concerns are greatest for younger children with another decade of learning ahead of them: the true priority is the impact on parents’ and carers’ capacity to resume productive activity themselves.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t re-open your school provision again. This moment was always going to arrive politically: professionally and morally it opens up a can of worms for our service.

There are some sensible commentators out there, notably NGA and NASUWT – both clearly indicating that this must be a judgement (on the basis of professional responsibilities) for schools.

Our responsibility as education leaders is not only extended to our learning community: the children, staff and families we serve. There is now the additional anxiety around an unknown quantity of risk that schools might inadvertently galvanise a second spike in the CoVid19 infection rate. Indeed, research from Australia puts this question into sharp focus with the point that young children will engage in hundreds of contacts per school session.

How then to resolve the conundrum, at the varying levels of responsibility? There is no easy answer, but below we have tried to set out a series of considerations which we hope will be helpful as you all do your best to make the right decisions.

We’ve taken the view that this difficult process of decision-making needs to flow from the ‘legal’ remit and responsibility for schools, which rests ultimately with the Governing Board (or Trustees in the case of Academy Trust schools) – although the key decision making will of course be framed by the thinking and knowledge of professional leadership.

Governors will need to exercise their responsibility using careful judgement to recognise the additional workload and stress for leaders, by:

  • arranging for regular discussion with and reporting back from HTs on current arrangements
  • ensuring that appropriate attention is being given to safeguarding/vulnerable children (& families where there is cause for concern)
  • promoting staff well-being; supporting privately and publicly the ongoing work of the school
  • assessing and sustaining health guidance, provision and precautions in place for those working on site
  • evolving with SLT a simple and workable draft plan for transition toward resuming routine arrangements;

School leaders will of course already be examining these matters with care, in addition to recognising the need for liaison with neighbouring schools. Collective and cooperative approaches will be essential while undertaking a combination of risk assessment and feasibility planning; this will involve:

  • considering the core elements of what will be required for a managed and progressive return of pupils – this complex task may be simplified by focusing on the three perspectives of People, Place, Provision
    • Facility management
    • Staffing deployment variations, including consultation on this
    • CPD/staff conferencing on key elements of the plan and more detailed re-provision arrangements
    • ongoing health precautions
    • transition support for children, including potential need for trauma-aware/mental well being approaches
    • guidance for parents, with clarity on any limitations of initial provision
    • curriculum modification/resumption approach, including learning consolidation activity
    • media position/key link
    • liaison with DfE; LA; professional associations, as required
  • monitoring and reviewing (in due course) the impact of CoVid10
    • on staff well being
    • on community confidence
    • on financial position and forecasting
    • on capacity for learning provision for key groups
    • on reported levels of CoVid19 within the local community

A holistic and collaborative approach is important so that there is as much consistency as possible in the planned approach and the communication of this to the local community.

Worryingly, the DfE guidance has left the way open for potential criticism of school decision-making which is already beginning to surface on social media, by failing to indicate strongly and clearly that this is not a one-dimensional situation with a single pattern of solutions.

The variables are considerable, in terms of physical accommodation, staffing numbers and training, “routine” arrangements for emergency evacuation, individual illness, SEND and vulnerable pupils.

For all of these reasons, we will continue to work alongside professional associations and other national bodies to urge the government and the DfE to further modify the guidance issued.

This would be our own working version of a five point plan for the DfE.

  1. The DfE should unequivocally state that the unprecedented pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for public service education and recognise that this means that a return to normal service must be carefully managed to avoid undermining public confidence.
  2. CoVid19 monitoring and reporting systems for schools should be established and tested for technical resilience now.
  3. Arrangements for liaison with public health experts should be put in place as a precondition for the return of larger numbers of children than are currently prioritised under arrangements for key workers and vulnerable families.
  4. A further statement of recognition should be issued by the government to acknowledge that a uniform approach under the current circumstances is neither realistic nor desirable in terms of health or education priorities.
  5. School Governing Bodies and Academy Trust Boards should be empowered to make local decisions in respect of extending education provision, paying regard to local conditions

We wish you all well and are here if we can offer any further support or advice at any time. The CSNET Team.

Useful references (see also our social media commentary and links):

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