Commenting on the National Audit Office report on the action taken by the Department for Education in the early months of the pandemic, published today, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

"This past year has been phenomenally challenging for schools and colleges. While no one could have predicted every step of the way, Government has certainly been the cause of a great deal of unnecessary confusion and upset.  

"It is understandable that the Government would not have an off-the-shelf plan for schools having to operate under an extended lockdown, as was the case from March 2020, but it continued to dither and delay over many months. Its refusal to listen to scientific advice on the impact on transmission rates of full on-site openings of schools and colleges, had consequences not only for children's learning but for wider society.  

"We know that teachers, leaders and school and college staff did all they can. Learning has continued throughout this period, but there was little sign of it in Whitehall. 

"At every turn the Government prioritised good press over good practice. The most damaging aspect was its state of denial over the need for a plan B even before the second lockdown loomed, not to mention the third. Nearly a year on, the Government limps to the finishing line with its laptops scheme - but this should have been resolved last summer. It is shameful that it continued for so long, leaving children and young people who qualified for the scheme without the support they desperately needed.   

"As far as the education profession is concerned, the Government's reputation has greatly suffered. It idly sat by as case rates rose in schools throughout autumn term, waving away calls for a circuit break, or more robust safety measures. So much was foreseeable, so many warnings went unheeded - not least plans being put in place to prevent last year's examination debacle.   

"The Government failed to listen to the profession time and time again and must now own its mistakes. Going forward, schools and colleges still need the support and funding to address the impact Covid has had on children and young people's education. The pandemic has shone a light on the curriculum, and parents are now much more conscious of its faults. We need to see it reformed.  

"The impact of this past year will not disappear overnight. Measures need to be in place not just for the remainder of this academic year but for the foreseeable future to ensure no child is left behind."