Headteachers have said that a government direction imposing a legal duty on schools to provide remote education which comes into force tomorrow is “draconian” and “unnecessary.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has created a new obligation for schools to ensure they provide a remote education to any pupil who is unable to attend school because of Covid-19.
However the Association of School and College Leaders and the NAHT school leaders' union have questioned the need for the law.
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ASCL’s director of policy Julie McCulloch said: “The legal requirement to provide remote education doesn’t actually change anything for schools as they already know what they are expected to provide from the government guidance which was published ahead of reopening in September, and this is what they are delivering.
“This is why we feel that the draconian measure of a legal order is unnecessary, heavy-handed and sends out a demoralising message to schools that the government doesn’t trust them.
"At a time when schools are under severe pressure because of the impact of rising Covid rates, this really isn’t helpful.”
Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Most people will see the introduction of this new legal responsibility to provide remote education precisely for what it is – a cynical attempt by government to look strong by acting tough. Schools do not need government to bring in laws for them to do the right thing.
“This should have been the moment when government put some real effort behind their promise to level-up, by committing to get fast internet to every home and a device to every pupil, so that no child misses out on part of their education for want of a computer.
"Now was the moment to invest in technology and the skills in schools to make the most of it. This could have benefited both communities and the economy, and is a missed opportunity to do good. Right now, schools and families need support, not sanction.”
The Department for Education has used temporary continuity direction powers to place the legal obligation on schools to provide immediate access to remote education for pupils if they are absent because of Covid-19.
Latest figures have shown that last week more than one-in-five schools and almost half of secondary schools have one or more pupils off self isolating as a result of contact with a Covid case in their school.
The law follows the publication of guidance from the DfE earlier this year which set out what the government expects schools to deliver in terms of remote education in the event of pupils being unable to attend school because of the coronavirus pandemic.
When the legal move was announced earlier this month, Paul Whiteman the general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union described it as "a grave error" and warned that it could cause "irreparable damage to the relationship between government and the profession”.
Yesterday Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh warned ministers that schools faced an impossible task in meeting this direction because they could not ensure pupils have access to a device to learn on at home or the internet.
The DfE has been approached for a comment.
At a parliamentary debate, led by Ms McDonagh, last night, school standards minister Nick Gibb said: “We recognise that for some pupils, remote education may need to be an essential component alongside classroom teaching.
"In those circumstances, the government want to ensure that there is no doubt about the roles and responsibilities within the system for providing that remote education.
“That is why the secretary of state issued a temporary continuity direction on 1 October, to give clarity that schools have a duty to provide remote education for state-funded school-aged children who are unable to attend school due to the coronavirus pandemic, in line with guidance and the law.”