Remote learning legal order 'will force heads to quit'

Teachers to fight back against excessive workload demands amid the challenge of trying to keep schools open

John Roberts

Coronavirus and schools: Headteachers will be forced out of the profession by the DfE decision to create a legal imposition on schools over remote learning, the NEU is warned

The government imposing a legal direction on schools to ensure access to remote education will force already overworked school leaders out of the profession, a union conference has heard.

Headteacher Anne Swift told the NEU teaching union conference that the Department for Education's move to create a legal expectation of education outside of school during the Covid-19 pandemic had already led to heads considering early retirement.

The former union president and North Yorkshire head warned that school leaders currently only have time to cope with managing Covid issues and keeping people safe.

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Ms Swift said: "On Thursday the secretary of state saw fit to pile on even more pressure by insisting that all children should receive a good quality education both in school and remotely. This is a fine aspiration but it ignores the reality of the situation and does nothing to support our schools and colleges.

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"Our leaders know full well that there is very little capacity in the system to provide education both in school and remotely for children at home at the same time.

"We have staff self-isolating, looking after their own children who have been sent home to self-isolate; the numbers that are ill themselves or medically at risk and therefore not in school is growing. 

"Headteachers have told me that in some cases they are dealing only with Covid-related issues and ensuring that everyone is safe. That leaves them very little time to consider other aspects of their role, leading to much-increased workload.

"In North Yorkshire this week we were asked by the local authority if we were going to take action or had views on the requirement to provide high-quality remote education.

"The local authority officer reported that heads were thinking of taking early retirement as this was just too much on top of all the other issues they were facing."

Her comments follow the government's decision to use 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 from 22 October.

In an NEU survey published today, just 2 per cent of teachers and leaders said they thought that all the pupils in their school were in a position to learn remotely. 

Ms Swift, a former president of the NUT teaching union, which united with the ATL to become the NEU, was speaking during a motion on workload at the union's special conference today. 

The motion, which was passed, called on the union to campaign to secure reviews of workload by all employers to ensure that already excessive workload does not increase.

It also called on the NEU's executive to help secure the implementation of national pay increases and pay scales in all workplaces, ensuring that all school teachers are paid at least on the new national advisory scales, and to continue to campaign against performance-related pay.

The NEU's joint general secretary, Kevin Courtney, said: “During Covid the education workforce has worked tirelessly to ensure that education continues for children and young people. Their role in maintaining education during lockdown has been noted and welcomed by parents and wider society. 

“Now the government needs to recognise this as well. For too long, it has presided over funding cuts and cuts in pay, conditions and jobs for all education staff. Combined with debilitating workload, this has led, in particular, to a teacher recruitment and retention crisis in our schools. 

“NEU members have agreed that the legacy of the Covid-19 crisis must be that conditions in schools and colleges become better, not worse, for all of our colleagues, from NQTs, classroom teachers, support staff and supply staff to school and college leaders.  

“This conference has committed the NEU to working in every education workplace on key issues ranging from securing the implementation of national pay rises and pay scales, ending damaging performance-related pay, ending gender, race and disability discrimination at work, and securing fairer treatment for supply and support staff."


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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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