End Covid chaos and threats to schools, DfE told

Union warning follows government refusal to let schools move to online learning amid rising Covid rates
14th December 2020, 11:06am
John Roberts

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End Covid chaos and threats to schools, DfE told

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/end-covid-chaos-and-threats-schools-dfe-told
Geoff Barton Has Urged The Government To End The Legal Threat Facing Schools Which Want To Move To Online Learning This Week.

The threat of legal action facing schools that move lessons online over Covid concerns has led to a "chaotic" end of term and must be withdrawn, headteachers' leaders are warning.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, spoke out this morning following the announcement that a London council has asked its schools to close to most pupils after today, and after today's call from the city's mayor Sadiq Khan for this to happen across the capital.

The Department for Education has said its strong expectation is that all schools stay open until the end of term.

It has already raised the prospect of legal action at schools and colleges that had put forward plans to move to remote learning at the end of term over Covid concerns.  


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Mr Barton has criticised the government for pursuing a "one-size-fits-all approach" to keeping schools running during the Covid pandemic.

He said: "We now have a chaotic situation in which Greenwich council has asked schools to close for classroom teaching from tonight, the Mayor of London has suggested the early closure of secondary schools, and the government is threatening schools with legal action if they decide to move to remote learning for the last few days of term.

"It is deeply unfair on school leaders, teachers, families and pupils that they are caught between the heavy-handed approach of central government and increasing alarm at local infection rates."

Yesterday, Tes reported that ASCL had joined forces with the NAHT school leaders' union to write a joint letter calling for education secretary Gavin Williamson to move schools to remote learning in areas in Covid hotspots where the government has decided that mass testing of pupils in necessary.

The health secretary Matt Hancock announced last week that rapid testing of secondary school pupils in parts of London, Essex and Kent would be carried out because of concerns over Covid rates among that age group.

Mr Barton and NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman have asked the DfE to explain why such immediate mass testing has not been made available to other areas of the country hard hit by Covid.

There has also been controversy over the DfE's threat to use emergency powers under the Coronavirus Act to direct schools to stay open.  

Mr Barton said: "Over the past few weeks, we have repeatedly called on the government to give schools the flexibility to move to remote learning in the final week of term based on the fact that they best know the circumstances they are facing.

"If it had allowed this to happen, schools would have had a much better chance of being able to plan an orderly end to the term.

"Although it is now incredibly late in the day, the government must remove the threat of legal action and allow schools to make the decisions they need to make on behalf of their staff and children.

"In the future, it must allow for more nuanced responses to local infection rates and the huge disruption affecting many schools rather than insisting on a one-size-fits-all approach."

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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