The Department for Education’s decision to enforce a legal expectation on schools to deliver remote education is “a grave error” that sends the message that it does not trust school leaders or teachers, headteachers have warned.
The government has used temporary continuity direction powers to place an obligation on schools to provide immediate access to remote education for pupils if they are absent because of Covid-19, which comes into effect in three weeks' time on 22 October.
The NAHT school leaders' union has warned that the decision to enforce this could do “irreparable damage to the relationship between government and the profession”.
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General secretary Paul Whiteman said: “We are extremely disappointed that the government has taken this step.
"Every indication we have is that schools are taking seriously their preparation for partial or full closure and taking steps to ensure they meet and exceed government and parental expectations for remote education, should circumstances require it.
A 'slap in the face' for school leaders
“Right now, government action should be focused wholly on support, not sanction – the carrot, not the stick. Bitter experience tells us that mandating compliance to a minimum criteria is a poor way of driving quality and excellence in a system. It will stifle much-needed innovation and limit ambition.
"There is absolutely no reason to believe that emergency powers are required to compel schools to act.
"By reaching for legal powers, government risks sending an unequivocal message to the profession and parents that they do not trust school leaders to act in the interests of young people in this country."
The move follows comments by education secretary Gavin Williamson, appearing before the Commons Education Select Committee, in which he said some teachers had not done as much as others during lockdown.
Addressing the committee last month about remote learning, he added: "What we need to do is continue to raise that bar. We will continue to flesh out with ever further detail about what expectations we have for schools."
Mr Whiteman added today: “At every step, school leaders have done what was asked of them, and then gone beyond. School leaders have worked tirelessly to put in place robust plans to return young people to education.
"This will be perceived as a cynical attempt by government to look strong by acting tough. It will be seen as a slap in the face to school leaders, destroying any goodwill remaining, and is likely to live long in the memory of all education professionals.”