What's the point of the DfE remote learning framework?

The Department for Education's online learning guidance is just accountability by stealth, says Michael Tidd

Michael Tidd

Coronavirus school closures: The DfE's online learning framework is a waste of time, says headteacher Michael TiddI

If only there were a form I could fill in to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach to remote learning – said no headteacher, ever.

Yet, presumably, someone at the Department for Education recently decided that was the very best way in which they could support schools through this current crisis.

As ever, rather than prioritising approaches to get resources into schools, or even to promote their successes, the department chooses instead to focus its energies on compliance and form-filling. 

You might think this a rather frivolous waste of time, given the other priorities the department might have. Presumably, whoever got the job of copying and pasting the remote-education requirements into a badly formatted form for schools to download couldn’t be trusted with one of the more important roles, such as ensuring that free school meals guidance meets the needs of actually feeding children, or making sure that primary schools are told about the introduction of mass Covid testing before sending out the tests to schools unexplained.

Coronavirus: Wasting time on the online learning framework

Perhaps the DfE had someone who was getting under everyone’s feet, and just needed to give them a role. 

“Look, Darren, we’re up to our necks in it here. The website guidance is all over the place, we keep contradicting ourselves on whether schools are safe or not, and somehow we’ve got to come up with a plan for safely reopening schools to cover for the fact that we didn’t have one for closing them. Why don’t you go upstairs and make a framework that we can stick on the website?”

The framework enables schools and their leadership teams (in those schools where they have nothing else to do) to judge themselves against criteria such as: “Governors, staff, parents and carers are aware of the school’s approach and arrangements for remote education.”

As though in a headteacher’s office somewhere there’s an incompetent deputy who’s suddenly going to realise that the reason nobody’s done any work on the online platform is that they forgot to tell anyone it was there.

Even better, if you decide your school is performing poorly in one area, the DfE is happy to step in and provide links to its own words of wisdom. Have you judged that there are “major gaps” in your strategy for mitigating against staff workload? Then just read these handy 60-page guidance documents. That should solve the workload problem.

Accountability pressures in a time of crisis

The worst thing about such forms is not that they exist. It’s not even the clear waste of someone’s paid working hours at the department (although not that many hours, judging by the quality of the product). The worst thing is that these things so quickly become expected, even when the form itself proclaims that it’s not intended for accountability.

If Ofsted inspections are restarting, the old framework will have its limitations when it comes to the new world of running schooling both remotely and in the building.

So how do they judge which schools are achieving well? Well, it just so happens that there’s a form here that sets out the government requirement in a nice, judgemental table. And woe betide you if you haven’t set out your strategy for “regular catch-ups with pupils, one to one”.

Before you know it, we’ll have local authorities scrutinising framework evaluations, multi-academy trusts competing to have the fanciest ones on their websites, and headteachers chasing their own tails – or more likely, chasing the tails of their hardworking staff – determined to ensure that every box is ticked.

And, while we’re all doing that, how much attention will be diverted from actually trying to do our best to support the children whom we should be focusing on?

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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