ASCL responds to guidance on full reopening of schools

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, comments on the government guidance about the full reopening of schools in the autumn
Commenting on the government guidance about the full reopening of schools in the autumn, Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:
“It will be immediately apparent to anyone reading this guidance that it is enormously challenging to implement. The logistics of keeping apart many different ‘bubbles’ of children in a full school, including whole-year groups comprising hundreds of pupils, is mind boggling. School leaders will have to consider implementing staggered starts, finishes, and lunch times, alongside transport to and from school, on an epic scale.
“However, we recognise that the options about how to bring all children back to school in the autumn are limited. It is the right ambition and it has to be done in a way that mitigates the risks associated with coronavirus as effectively as possible. We understand the guidance is an attempt to achieve both aims.
“There just needs to be a sense of reality about what is possible. School leaders will do their best, as they always do, and ASCL will support them all the way, but this is not going to be perfect. It will be hard for everyone concerned to implement and become accustomed to difficult and complicated systems, and it will not work smoothly all the time.
“And while we share the ambition of bringing all pupils back to school in the autumn, we would urge the government to have in place a national Plan B in the event that we arrive at September and it becomes clear that a full return is just too risky.

Inspections and performance tables
“We are pleased the government has agreed with the need to suspend routine Ofsted inspections for the autumn term, but extremely disappointed there is no commitment to suspending school performance tables next year.

“Schools must be able to focus on supporting the learning and wellbeing of pupils following a time of great disruption, and bearing in mind the possibility of continued partial or full shutdowns in response to outbreaks. Given the very different circumstances schools and pupils are facing, school performance tables are meaningless and counterproductive, and they should be suspended in 2021.

The curriculum
“One of the challenges facing schools will be to support children in catching up on lost learning from very different starting points. This is why there is room in the guidance to discuss with pupils and parents the possibility of dropping a GCSE subject in order to allow greater focus on other subjects.
“We are aware that this may lead to concerns that the curriculum is being narrowed for these children. However, the guidance makes clear that this would happen only in exceptional circumstances, when it is in the best interests of the pupil, and the goal at all times is to provide a broad curriculum.

“We do not agree with the suggestion in the guidance of fixed penalty notices for unauthorised pupil absences. This is not the right message at this difficult time and we need to focus on building confidence rather than threatening sanctions.
“The government should make it clear to school leaders that there will be no expectation on them to issue fines from the start of term and that there will be a period of grace as attendance settles down.

BAME staff and pupils
“The absence of detailed guidance about the risk of coronavirus to pupils and staff from certain ethnic minorities is an ongoing concern. Schools need information and guidance. It is not good enough for the government to offer no support beyond suggesting schools discuss any concerns.”