Schools allowed off on Dec 18 to give teachers a break

Extra inset day to be allowed this year, as DfE wants a 'clear six days' so that by Christmas Eve teachers and heads get a 'proper break'
8th December 2020, 12:23pm
Amy Gibbons

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Schools allowed off on Dec 18 to give teachers a break

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/schools-allowed-dec-18-give-teachers-break
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Schools can introduce an Inset day on the last Friday of term to ensure staff get a "proper break" over Christmas, the schools minister has said.

Addressing the Commons Education Select Committee this afternoon, Nick Gibb said the Department for Education (DfE) wanted schools to stay open until the end of term as that was the best place for young people.

But the department also wants there to be a "clear six days" so that by Christmas Eve staff can have a "proper break" without having to engage in track and trace, he said.


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The DfE will therefore shortly be announcing that Inset days can be used on Friday 18 December, even if not already scheduled.

However, this will mean there is one less Inset day scheduled in 2021 for schools who choose to follow this path, Mr Gibb said.

He told the committee: "We want schools to stay open until the end of term.

"School is the best place for young people: for their educational development, for their mental health as well. The chief medical officers from all four nations are saying that, actually, the risks of being out of school far outweigh the risks from being in school. So it is important that schools remain open, and 99.4 per cent of schools are open.

"And they've done a tremendous job - teachers and headteachers up and down the country, and support staff - in keeping those schools open.

"But what we also want to ensure is that teachers and heads, in particular, who are delivering the track and trace for any pupil or staff identified, who's got a positive Covid staff, they then engage in the track and trace of their contacts - we want to make sure that they can have a proper break over Christmas.

"They've been under huge stress. I don't think some of the senior leadership teams of schools have had a break at all since the pandemic began.

"But we want there to be a clear six days so that by the time we reach sort of Christmas Eve, staff can have a proper break without having to engage in the track and trace issues.

"So we are about to announce that Inset days can be used on Friday 18 December - even if an Inset day had not been originally scheduled for that day.

"It will mean there will be one less Inset day in 2021 that might have been scheduled. So that helps then deliver those six days. And we'll be saying more about that later today."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said "a single day is better than nothing", but warned that school contract tracers will still need to respond to positive cases up until 23 December.

"We have been pressing the government to allow schools the flexibility to move staff training days to the end of term, or to move to remote learning for the last few days, so that last contact between pupils is at an earlier point," he said.

"The aim is to reduce the risk of pupils and staff having to self-isolate over Christmas and to minimise the need for schools to carry out contact tracing in the Christmas holidays.

"We recognise the government has made a small concession, but we had hoped it would allow more flexibility than has been granted.

"A single day is better than nothing, but it still means that school and college leaders will have to continue contact tracing in the event of positive cases through to Wednesday 23 December.

"It also leaves them responsible, at very short notice, for informing families that they will need to self-isolate over the Christmas period.

"It is frustrating also that the government has taken so long to agree this decision as there is so little time left for schools to make the necessary arrangements."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "Yesterday, we warned that the government was risking a steep drop in attendance figures if it did not help families out of the impossible situation they're facing on whether to prioritise safety or attendance in the last week of term.

"We called for the government to act immediately, and they have responded with a compromise that permits schools to finish this term on Thursday instead of Friday. This will give families an extra day to isolate before getting together at Christmas.

"Some families and schools will still regard this as insufficient to meet their needs, and it may still force some hasty reorganisation of activities in the last week of term, which could have been avoided if the government had been more proactive.

"Our recommendation to give schools the flexibility to work with parents and make arrangements that best suit their individual circumstances still stands. A chaotic and disruptive end of term is still possible, especially in areas where there are large numbers of Covid cases and high levels of staff and pupil absence already.

"Just as importantly, the government has moved significantly towards our recommendations about schools' responsibilities for track and trace during the holidays. We welcome the fact that school leaders will not now be on call for the whole Christmas break, as originally demanded by the government."

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