Department for Education

Schools Told to Plan for More Remote Learning and for Return of Face Masks

The Department for Education (DfE) has instructed schools to be prepared for the reintroduction of face masks in classrooms and for the return of remote learning in case of “local outbreaks of Covid”. The Times Educational Supplement has the story.

In an email bulletin sent to schools this afternoon [by the DfE] they have been told to ensure they have management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the restrictions in the new Contingency Framework document were to be introduced in their area.

The updated framework also sets out how councils and public health directors can make decisions to introduce Covid safety measures at a single school or cluster of schools but where there is a need to address Covid across an entire area decisions will be taken by ministers.

The new framework tells schools to ensure they have plans in place for:

~ Reintroducing asymptomatic testing sites.

~ Reintroducing mask-wearing in communal areas and/or classrooms.

~ Limiting residential visits, open days, transition days and performances.

~ Limiting attendance to primary school pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

~ Limiting attendance secondary school students in Years 10, 11, 12 and 13, as well as vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

The document also says that schools should plan for the reintroduction of shielding but says that a decision to bring this back can only be done by the national Government.

In a daily bulletin sent to schools, the department says: “We have updated the contingency framework following the Government’s announcement on enhanced response packages to tackle the Delta variant in some areas.

“The contingency framework describes the principles of managing local outbreaks of Covid in education and childcare settings. It covers all types of measures that settings should be prepared for, which includes those that may be recommended as part of an enhanced response area.

“All education and childcare settings should have outbreak management plans outlining how they would operate if any of the measures described within the contingency framework were recommended in their area for any reason.

“Secondary schools and colleges should ensure their outbreak management plans cover the possibility that it is advised that face coverings should temporarily be worn more widely in settings in their area and that asymptomatic testing sites (ATS) may be required.”

It also says that additional guidance has been issued to the Directors of Public Health advising that they work in partnership with schools and colleges before reinstating ATS.

Schools had previously been told, earlier this year, that they must not implement any of the Covid containment measures without “explicit agreement” from the DfE but the new framework sets out how this can be done at local level if it only involves a small number of schools.

As we reported earlier today, London councils are also hoping to build “temporary body storage facilities” in the event of an “excess deaths situation”, largely due to concerns about the Indian Delta Covid variant. Just when we should be unlocking, the authorities appear to be gearing up for further restrictions.

The Times Educational Supplement report is worth reading in full.

School Day Could Be Extended under £15 Billion Scheme to Help Pupils Make Up for Lost Time

The Department for Education (DfE), which was last week accused of being “surprisingly resistant” to investigating the shortfalls in its Covid response, is now reportedly backing “sweeping reform” to help make up for the disruption caused to education by lockdown – and to avoid the £1.5 trillion cost of doing nothing. This could include extending the school day by half an hour under a £15 billion “Covid [that is, lockdown] rescue plan”. The Times has the story.

A leaked presentation of a report by Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s Education Recovery Commissioner, calls for all children to receive an extra 100 hours of schooling each year from 2022, with a minimum 35-hour week.

The ambitious plan for England proposes extra tutoring for five million pupils and additional training for 500,000 teachers. It also hints that an extra year of sixth-form should be considered if teenagers cannot complete A-level courses in time.

The report warns that the cost to the country of inaction could be £1.5 trillion, 100 times the cost of the three-year package, but the Treasury is thought to be offering only £1.5 billion, a tenth of what is said to be needed to help pupils to bounce back from the pandemic.

A 56-page presentation based on the report, dated April 15th, is described as a draft that is 90% complete. One Whitehall source said that nothing had “changed fundamentally” since then.

At the heart of the document are the “three Ts” – extra time, teaching and tutoring. It says that all three combined are essential to catch up. This means lengthening the school day, improving teaching through more training, and providing tutoring on top of lessons.

Schools are likely to have a degree of freedom over how they choose to extend the day. Adding the 100 hours evenly each day would roughly add up to half an hour of extra schooling. Teachers would be paid more for the work.

Boris Johnson has been briefed on the findings, and in meetings with Collins has indicated support for the plan…

The DfE is also backing sweeping reform. However, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has balked at the cost of the package, which is equivalent to about £700 per pupil over three years. One insider described the £1.5 billion offered by the Treasury as “ridiculous”.

The news comes as the Times Education Commission embarks on a year-long inquiry that will lead to recommendations for reform…

Children have missed almost half a year of in-person schooling, with about 23 weeks of school closures during the pandemic. According to the report, the U.K. had the longest closures of schools and universities combined in Europe.

Worth reading in full.

Department for Education Is “Surprisingly Resistant” to Investigating the Failures in Its Covid Response, Says New Report

The Department for Education’s (DfE) lack of planning for how to deal with a pandemic, along with its failure to set standards for remote learning when lockdowns struck, resulted in children receiving “unequal [educational] experiences” over the past year, according to a new report. This report also says that the department has been “surprisingly resistant” to investigating the shortfalls in its Covid response. The Guardian has the story.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also said there was evidence that the Government’s £1.7 billion catch-up programme – designed to restore the learning lost during school closures – may not be connecting with many of the most disadvantaged children. The committee’s report describes the DfE as having “worthy aspirations but little specific detail”.

Meg Hillier, Chair of the PAC, said: “The pandemic has further exposed a very ugly truth about the children living in poverty and disadvantage, who have been hit particularly hard.

“Online learning was inaccessible to many children even in later lockdowns and there is no commitment to ongoing additional funding for IT. Schools will be expected to fund laptops out of their existing, and already squeezed, budgets.”

Hillier said the DfE “appears uninterested in learning lessons from earlier in the pandemic”, preferring to wait for later public inquiries.

“It shows little energy and determination to ensure that its catch-up offer is sufficient to undo the damage of the past 14 months,” Hillier said.

The report, after hearings conducted by the bipartisan committee, was deeply critical of the DfE’s failings towards children with special educational needs and disabilities, many of who struggled with remote learning, and over the future of the more than one million digital devices it had distributed to schools at a cost of £400 million.

The DfE told the committee that the laptops and tablets were now owned by schools and local authorities, which would have to maintain and update them using existing budgets.

The committee accused the DfE of being “unprepared” for the disruption despite taking part in the Government’s 2016 cross-departmental exercise to test the U.K.’s response to a pandemic, called Operation Cygnus. The MPs also found that the DfE was “surprisingly resistant” to investigating its response since March 2020.

Numerous studies have highlighted that pupils made little to no progress while learning from home – so why the reluctance from the DfE to investigate its errors in fixing this?

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.