Demonstrators in Parliamnet Square demanding an end to baseline tests for four-year-olds – the NEU says overloaded syllabuses won't work after Covid-19

COMMENTING on the publication of the Education Policy Institute’s ‘catch up plan’ for disadvantaged pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘These are new times with massively more numbers of families dropping under the poverty line and we are going to need new responses.

‘A school’s job is becoming one of food supply, mental health support and keeping family relationships going, more than ever before.
‘Responding to the distressing new levels of poverty needs a joined-up approach to getting proper incomes to families, rather than pretending there is a magic bullet where schools alone can counter the impact of disadvantage on learning.
‘Closing the gap between family incomes, and ensuring every family has enough money, is the priority gap we need to fix.
‘Child benefit should be doubled immediately.
‘As schools re-integrate more students back on site over the next months the focus needs to be on healthy transitions which support engagement with learning and not on catching up to some government-mandated trajectory.
‘We are going to need to re-engage students with their learning and that means we must give schools the scope to make learning relevant and engaging.
‘This is the lesson from research around the world after education in other emergencies.
‘Teachers need to be able to start from where children “are at” when they return. Everybody will have gaps in their learning, and a new flexible approach to the curriculum will be inescapable.
‘The NEU endorses the idea that Ofsted should freeze new inspections until 2021.
‘Inspections weren’t fit for purpose before Covid-19 and they certainly won’t be afterwards. Suspending Ofsted would be one important stepping-stone to making sure schools can recapture time to work responsively with returning students and re-establish the positive relationships that generate inclusion and meaningful learning.
‘Teachers tell us that the “Ofsted effect” reduces their time to respond to students as individuals, and we can’t afford that during Covid. Pushing students through overloaded syllabuses just isn’t going to work after Covid.
‘The EPI is right to sound a warning signal in calling for a major strategy on inclusion after Covid.
‘We need to “build back better”, not rush back to normal. Before Covid, exclusion rates were soaring and during Covid, many parents of students with SEN (Special Educational Needs) are saying their child is happier at home.
‘Let’s make sure we place expectations on school staff that are realistic and that we create supportive and not punitive environments for schools as we learn how to best re-engage students.
‘Let’s share practice about how to mitigate the risks by restoring the role of local government in school evaluation and school co-operation.
‘Let’s learn from education in emergencies. Let’s give staff the emotional supervision they need to support families facing really serious issues such as bereavement, job losses and homelessness.’

  • In response to the Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford’s suggestion that schools may partially reopen at the beginning of June, Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said: ‘We are concerned that speculation about when schools might reopen in Wales is causing uncertainty and deep anxiety for children, their parents and teachers.

‘The Welsh Government has to remain clear that the current restrictions on schools must continue to be driven by the scientific evidence.
‘Any reopening of schools, either partially or fully, must ensure the health and safety of children, young people and those working in schools.’

  • A National Education Union (NEU) snapshot survey of over 2,000 school staff shows significant concerns about effectiveness of present social-distancing measures in schools.

Over last weekend (2-3 May) the NEU conducted a snapshot survey of 2,560 mainstream school staff in England about the management of the Covid-19 crisis.
Amidst constant speculation about when and how schools will re-open, the results highlight serious concerns from key workers about the preparedness of schools to open safely to an increased number of pupils.
The findings showed:

  • Almost a quarter (23%) of staff are currently shielding to protect themselves or a member of their household, owing to pre-existing medical conditions or pregnancy. This is higher in London (28%);
  • A third of educators (30%) have spent time in self-isolation since lockdown was imposed. This was higher amongst respondents in London (36%);
  • Just 1.5% of those surveyed have been tested for Coronavirus. This tracks very closely with the number in the survey who have been diagnosed as having the virus;
  • 1,931 of the respondents are regularly attending work in their school and thus able to see first-hand the preparedness or otherwise for a greater expansion in pupil numbers when lockdown eases;
  • Just 11% of this group said their school was conducting a temperature check for staff and pupils;
  • Around a quarter (22%) of these respondents said their school did not have sufficient soap and/or hand sanitiser. The same proportion said there was no routine of hand washing at their school;
  • 61% of respondents said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the social distancing measures in their school for pupils. This is in the context of just 2% of pupils attending school, according to national statistics;
  • When the question turned to similar measures for staff, 50% expressed concern. One in five are ‘very concerned’.

On these final two questions, the results for those attending school – the 1,931 subgroup – were as follows:
‘How confident are you that the social distancing measures for pupils at school are appropriate?’
Very confident 4%
Confident 14%
Neither confident nor concerned 22%
Concerned 32%
Very concerned 29%
‘How confident are you that the social distancing measures for staff at school are appropriate?’
Very confident 6%
Confident 22%
Neither confident nor concerned 23%
Concerned 30%
Very concerned 20%
These views were consistent across primary and secondary sectors.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU, said: ‘Teachers, heads and support staff have been working hard since mid-March to support each one of their pupils, whether at school or remotely.
‘Throughout this time school leaders have done their level best to ensure the safety of staff and pupils alike, but this can only go so far.’
It is clear from the findings of this survey that much more needs to be done to equip schools for the road ahead.
‘With thousands of new cases of Covid-19 announced each day, the government is being premature in its off-the-record briefings about school re-openings.
‘We have written repeatedly to the government to get them to reveal their modelling of the spread of the virus in schools and with what measures they are planning to mitigate the obvious risks for adults working in schools, as well as children’s families, particularly those living with vulnerable relatives. We have not yet received any reply.
‘There should be no mad rush to re-open schools. It must be done with great care, and alongside a profession who feel confident about safety measures being adequate and fit for purpose.
‘Parents also agree with us – they have shown immense patience in recent weeks, for which all school staff are grateful.
‘But that goodwill and effort from the public will be squandered by returning pupils too hastily. Safety must come first.
‘We need to see evidence of a sustained downward trend in cases, a national plan for social distancing and PPE, comprehensive access to testing for staff and pupils and a whole school strategy for when cases emerge before plans can be made to open schools on a wider basis than at present.