Next Sunday is the start of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas. For many this has been the longest year of their lives; paradoxically where did the year go? Too many school leaders and staff are on their knees as they try to manage the on-going impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the season of goodwill starting in just over a month, here are five ideas that Messrs Williamson & Gibb could implement to prepare for Christmas and make up for their less than stellar performances so far this year.
Remote Learning Week 11th – 15th December
I suspect that by the time attendance and bubble bursting information reaches the higher echelons of the Department for Education it is already out of date. Schools are closing, year groups are being sent home and too many staff are ill or isolating. Planning for the last week of term to be a remote learning week might just formalise the reality of what will actually happen on the ground. Some Trust and schools have already decided that an early Christmas closure is a necessity.
The advantage of this two week school circuit breaker, prior to Christmas, is that no pupils or staff will be isolating over the Christmas weekend due to catching or coming into contact with the virus at school. It’s a great way for the DfE to say “we care; you matter” to the school staff who have worked tirelessly for the past ten months.
Fund COVID Costs
The “schools have reserves” line has worn beyond thin. Some schools having reserves – potentially earmarked for capital projects or to cover in year deficits – doesn’t help the school down the road that has no reserves and increasing costs. The latter still needs to manage the impact of COVID on staffing and the safety of children and young people. The simple principle must be: sufficient funding for all and additional funding for those in the most challenging circumstances. Any scheme needs to be super-efficient with no additional burden on senior leaders or business managers.
I’d propose a termly automatic payment twenty pound per pupil if the school is in tier 1; forty pounds per pupil if the school has been in tier 2 at any point during the term and sixty pounds per pupil if the school has been in tier 3. That would amount to termly payments between £4 – £12k for a one form entry school and £20 – £60k for a secondary school with one thousand pupils on roll. After all, education is a national priority. The school funding issue has not gone away. I sense it is about to become worse.
Cancel Performance Tables 2021
The early decision to cancel performance tables in 2020 was helpful. The tables would not have contained any information that was useful to parents in comparing schools nor add anything to looking at an individual school over time. The same is true of next year’s data. What can you tell from looking at attendance data for the current academic year? Likewise the totally uneven playing field assuming examinations can go ahead next summer, particularly at GCSE, will tell you nothing of value. Either the disparate experiences of pupils in various schools will be recorded or the impact of a statistical adjustment to try to mitigate the differing times out of school.
The other advantage is that it will but time for the Department to consider what to do about Key Stage 2 SATs. With the performance tables an any reporting process gone then the SATs can go ahead, be cancelled again this year or a representative sample of schools ask to sit them to inform national discussions about the impact of COVID and what might be the best way forward. The letter is my general preference for Key Stage 2 SATs in the long term.
Suspend Inspections until September 2021
I cannot actually believe we are still discussing this. School leaders need to be in schools focused on the job in hand, not inspecting for Ofsted; HMI need to be supporting the national effort as many did admirably over the summer and any inspection reports written this academic year will be next to worthless. Parents do not seem to have missed them. I certainly have not heard of a groundswell of public disquiet that inspections have been suspended.
There are problems with starting up inspections in the short term. The inspection process would have to be changed, to take account of COVID secure premises and practices. The limitations of the current inspection framework have been cruelly exposed by the sterling work many schools and school leaders have done since March. The framework would need rethinking.
Probably best to think more about starting up with some “no grade” inspections in September 2021 and see if high stakes, cliff-edged accountability has actually served its purpose. It is an opportunity to start looking at turning Safeguarding into a continuous audit process aimed at identifying and rectifying issues in policies or practice before they prove detrimental to children and young people.
Plan B for GCSE
I sincerely hope A-levels examinations can go ahead next year. I am much more ambivalent about GCSEs (I blogged some thoughts here) and think there needs to be a Plan B, prepared in good time to allow different proposals and reflections on them to be considered. This should have been started. It’s not an abandonment of Plan A just some sensible risk mitigation in case it doesn’t come off.
We can’t continue with the strategy of going missing, delaying decisions, making no decisions, U-turning on decisions and apologising for the shambles that inevitably ensues. It’s time for high quality leadership that ensures hope illuminates the darkest moments in the months ahead.