11th-hour 'shambles' on next term ‘beggars belief’

Unions criticise the timing of DfE announcement that will result in most secondary students starting the new term online
17th December 2020, 2:02pm
John Roberts


11th-hour 'shambles' on next term ‘beggars belief’

Coronavirus: School Leaders Have Said That The Dfe Announcing A Last-minute Move To Remote Learning At The Start Of The New Term 'beggars Belief'

School leaders have said that it "beggars belief" that the Department for Education is announcing an "11th-hour" move to online learning in the new year after taking legal action to stop schools doing the same this week.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has accused the DfE of making a "chaotic last-minute" announcement at the end term.

The NAHT school leaders' union described the situation as "an absolute shambles".

The department is expected to say today that the majority of secondary school year groups will start the new term online in January with only exam year groups going into school.

Tes exclusively revealed last night that the government was considering delaying the normal start of term for secondary school students by a week.

Exclusive: DfE considering delaying start-of-term return for students

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Mr Barton said: "It beggars belief that this announcement is being made now, right at the end of term, and after the government has spent the last few weeks refusing to contemplate the idea of remote learning and threatening schools with legal action if they dared to suggest such a move."

Coronavirus: Fears over schools delivering mass testing

Earlier this week, the DfE issued a legal direction to Greenwich council ordering it to back down over its plan to move schools to online learning in the last week of term.

The plan for a staggered start to term comes as the government asks schools to begin a massive Covid testing programme.

This will result in secondary school teachers being tested every week and staff and pupils who come into contact with a Covid case being given daily tests over seven days rather than having to self-isolate.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said: "The government could not have created more of a shambolic situation. They have handed schools a confused and chaotic mess at the 11th hour.

"Throughout this pandemic, the government's actions have actively worked against the ambition of delivering the best education possible.

"By dropping this on schools minutes before the end of term, leaders are left with no time to implement government's instructions. Schools, pupils and parents are now left with no clear idea of what is expected of them, or what to expect next term."

Mr Barton said that the ASCL was pleased the DfE has "finally realised the importance of large-scale testing of staff and pupils in our schools and colleges, and the introduction of short periods of remote learning to reduce the spread of the virus".

But he added: "We are very concerned about the feasibility of setting up a testing programme at the scale envisaged. We welcome the limited support we understand will be available, but this is a huge exercise requiring processes to be established and communicated, parental permission to be obtained, and doubtless innumerable other logistical issues to be overcome.

"We also want an assurance that school staff will not be expected to carry out any invasive medical procedure.

"All this is aside from the fact that many school and college leaders have not had a break since March and are presumably now expected to spend their Christmas making sense of this announcement, and arranging for priority groups to be taught in school and other children to be taught remotely.

"The profession is very willing to work with the government over how to roll-out mass testing, but ministers must understand that chaotic, last-minute announcements do not constitute a collaborative approach."

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers' union, said: "The government's latest announcement demonstrates that Covid-19 transmission in schools is a major factor in continuing the spread of the virus.

"Delaying the return of some pupils in secondary schools by a week may be of some assistance, but much more action is needed to keep pupils, staff and their families safe.

"The failure of the government to recognise the very real coronavirus risks impacting on primary and special schools is a major cause for concern.

"Yet again the government is announcing significant changes affecting schools with little or no time to prepare before the Christmas closure period.

"The NASUWT has been clear that it is not the responsibility of teachers or school leaders to undertake testing of pupils or employees.

"The government has to ensure that it puts into place all the necessary resources needed to deliver the practical and financial support to schools to ensure safety in schools. The announcement by the health minister does not deliver the resources needed."

"Alongside the introduction of mass testing, the government must urgently take further action to ensure that essential Covid-safety measures are securely in place in all schools and colleges to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus amongst pupils and staff."

Mr Whiteman added: "Once again, an announcement that, if properly planned and executed could have been positive, is poised to fail. It is now urgent that the government confirms to schools the precise levels of support available to them to carry out testing.

"If education is the priority government says it is, they can't keep layering extra responsibilities on schools. [It's] time to support schools in delivering education rather than expecting them to support everything else."



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