New Covid cash plea as schools despair at ‘failing’ DfE

Disillusioned heads write to MPs calling for more funding, Covid tests and clarity on exams, saying confidence in DfE is now at ‘rock bottom’
10th November 2020, 3:29pm


New Covid cash plea as schools despair at ‘failing’ DfE
Tired Headteacher

Hundreds of headteachers are writing to their MPs requesting urgent help on a range of issues including Covid funding and exams uncertainty.

The letter organised by grassroots school funding pressure group WorthLess? also expresses frustration at "serious failings" from the Department for Education.

Related: 'Frustration' at missing school rotas in Covid guidance

Heads: 'Ridiculous' delay to Covid guidance lets schools down

Ofsted: 'Unsustainable, overwhelming' Covid burden on schools

The heads tell their MPs: "Every headteacher recognises the complexity of the current situation and the huge challenges involved in mitigating risk and trying to reduce the most serious implications relating to Covid-19.

"Over time, however, we have become increasingly disillusioned by a persistent lack of effective and credible leadership emanating from the Department for Education."  

The "key issues", listed in the letter, range from lack of information and guidance on issues such as exams, PPE and school infection rates to the ineffectiveness of the test and trace system and the inadequacy of the laptop provision for disadvantaged children.

Jules White, headteacher and leader of the WorthLess? campaign, said: "We are doing everything in our power to ensure that our schools are kept open and children and colleagues are kept safe, but our confidence in the Department for Education is at rock bottom and we urgently need decisive and effective leadership to overcome the challenges that Covid-19 is presenting." 

Another headteacher, Emma Wilkes of Oakfield Academy in Frome - who is also chair of the Somerset Association of Secondary Headteachers - said: "It is unbelievable to have to campaign so widely again just to ask for the relentlessly reasonable voices of school leaders to be heard. 

"Our department needs to consult widely and listen to responses so that our young people are given the very best opportunity to thrive and succeed, but still we're left with eleventh-hour changes with little or no notice to implement guidance and no opportunity to input during the planning or discussion stages."     

This is what heads are calling for:

  • Contingency plans for GCSE and A levels to be urgently published.  They must meaningfully take account of the significant 'lost learning time' for students, the wider mental health and other pressures they face during the time of a pandemic and the widespread variations in school attendance seen across the country. 
  • Phonics screening (including in December 2020) and Sats to be replaced by teacher assessments in the summer of 2021. 
  • No performance tables should be published for 2021.
  • Ofsted inspections should not be reintroduced in January 2021. Instead, inspection teams should gather best practice occurring in schools - including the most effective ways to support pupil wellbeing and deliver blended/online learning - and disseminate it nationally.
  • The costs of Covid-19 related expenditure should be fully reimbursed with a clear, transparent and standardised mechanism for making such claims.
  • Staff working in schools should be prioritised for Covid-19 testing. 
  • PPE (appropriate to each educational setting) should be provided alongside further guidance on the use of face coverings in schools.
  • Where staffing levels are insufficient to allow effective teaching or safety standards to be met, headteachers should be given the discretion to introduce a rota system of opening for students in secondary schools (and in extremis, primary schools) if all other options have been exhausted. 
  • A reversal of the recent cuts to laptops allocated to the most disadvantaged students.
  • A fully funded national programme of 'emotional wellbeing and recovery' for all school-aged children.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The government has made it a national priority to get all pupils back into school full-time as it is the best place for their education and wellbeing.

"On average, costs to schools to become Covid-secure will have been a relatively small proportion of their core funding for each pupil, which for secondary schools has increased to a minimum of £5,150, the first year of the biggest increase to core school funding in a decade.

"We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, which is why we launched an additional £1 billion Covid catch up fund for schools to support those children who need it."


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