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 National Education Union, 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 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.”