It is important for the education and welfare of pupils that schools and colleges are able to open in September but the Government plans rely on lower levels of Covid-19 in the community and a fully functioning test, track and isolate system. The National Education Union (NEU) will be monitoring both during the summer. The Government must, as a minimum, be able to show that Public Health England and SAGE confirm that when the guidelines are implemented in September, transmission networks can be managed and vulnerable staff kept safe.

Government needs a Plan B in the event that its guidance does not work or if cases are higher by the time we get to September.

This plan needs to spell out what action must be taken in a variety of situations, so that schools and colleges can make the preparations parents expect of them.  It must also include a robust test, track and trace system. 

The NEU has developed an education recovery plan which the Government should be working to implement if plans fail.  The NEU plan requires Government to find extra classroom space and to mobilise supply teachers, beginner teachers finishing colleges and those who have left the profession. If the Government could build and staff the Nightingale Hospital then it should be able to build and staff Nightingale classrooms to ensure our children can get back to school.

Managing learning appropriately during the health pandemic 

The DfE should accept that the 2020/2021 school year is not education as normal. In addition to consolidating pupils’ learning, there needs to be a focus on recovery of their confidence in learning, and re-engagement into the life of their school.

An abrupt return to business as usual in September ignores the implications of the learning gaps that such a high proportion of students have experienced. It is unrealistic to ignore the disruption caused by March to August and a business as usual attitude will undermine schools’ efforts to re-engage, motivate and support pupils returning to the classroom.

Pupils have been through a traumatic time. Home learning environments are not equal and not all parents and carers have been able to support their children’s learning at home during the lockdown.

Some pupils will be very worried about re-starting schooling. Students can't be expected simply to ‘catch-up’ on more than a term’s curriculum within a few weeks of returning to school after months of uncertainty and, for some, trauma. Students with SEND, with lower prior attainment and who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) will, in particular, need dedicated support in order to regain confidence and consolidate their learning. Increasing number of families are eligible for FSM and some schools have a far higher proportion of children living in poverty than others.

Knowing their pupils and their learning needs, teachers must be given the freedom to focus on:

  • Assessing gaps in pupils’ learning; 
  • Supporting students to consolidate what they have learned; 
  • Setting expectations for pupil progress that are realistic and fair for young people, given the learning that has been missed by so many, and which do not undermine welfare and wellbeing.

Teachers must be able to use their professional expertise and judgements to provide appropriate curriculum and learning experiences for their pupils.

Online learning must be available for all pupils

700 thousand students are digitally deprived. They have no internet access in their homes.  As part of the transitional year 2020/2021, all students living in poverty and low income households must be given the resources they need to learn remotely, including access to books and creative resources as well, as technology. This will be essential if schooling is interrupted.

Performance league tables and Ofsted will distract attention from what is important to teachers and essential for pupils

Next year, test results – and league tables – will not be based on a full key stage of learning, nor will they be comparable across schools or across years. Children and young people have been isolated and learning on their own for many months. We are pleased that the Government has agreed to suspend routine Ofsted inspections from the autumn term. We are disappointed that there is no commitment to suspend school performance tables.  We share this concern with ASCL and NAHT.

GCSE and A levels should be changed to provide a fair assessment of young people’s attainment. We are concerned about the minimal suggestions made in Ofqual's proposals for summer 2021. In the majority of the subjects, the expectation that the full specification can be covered by next summer, after many months of lost teaching time, is simply not appropriate.

Subject areas should not be cut, but the curriculum should be slimmed to focus on teaching essential, engaging content across all subjects.

Exams cannot be expected to cover all the current syllabus because of the reduced teaching time: an alternative involving teacher assessment and slimmed-down exams, with more choice of questions, should be used.

Ofsted inspections focused on long term curriculum sequencing and deep dives into specific subjects are not appropriate for the current exceptional circumstances and the pause should continue during the next academic year.

No valid or reliable judgements can be made on school performance given the very different levels of pupil learning during lockdown and the potential for further disruption to schooling in the case of a second spike or local outbreaks. Performance league tables and Ofsted must be suspended for the next academic year in order to enable school leaders, teacherd and support staff to concentrate on what is important – their pupils’ wellbeing and learning.