Plans to be announced on schools re-opening – Friday 1 May 2020

This week I report on the Prime Minister’s pledge to set out a plan on how schools can re-open, the publication of new guidance on temporary changes to the law on EHC needs assessments and a review of the first Northern Governance Conference webinar that took place earlier this week.

Plan to be announced on schools re-opening
At yesterday’s daily briefing the Prime Minister promised to set out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how children can get back to school. It comes as the Education Secretary has said pupils are expected to return to school “in phases”.  Earlier this week the Government’s top medical expert warned that re-opening schools too early could increase the spread of infection and the teaching unions have said schools must not reopen until it is safe to do so.

A research review carried out by academics at the University of Exeter and London School of Economics found school closures could leave disadvantaged children with a “learning loss” of up to six months. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, backed by 55 MPs and peers, has called for a “catch-up premium” for disadvantaged pupils once the lockdown lifts.

Changes to the law on education, health and care needs assessments and plans due to coronavirus
Some aspects of the law on education, health and care (EHC) needs assessments and plans are changing temporarily to give local authorities, health commissioning bodies, education settings and other bodies who contribute to these processes more flexibility in responding to the demands placed on them by Covid-19. Given that the changes to the legislation are temporary, the statutory guidance, the SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years will not be updated.

However, the DfE had issued new guidance confirming which key elements of the processes over EHC needs assessments and plans are unchanged. Notably this includes that a local authority must still consider requests for a new EHC needs assessment, must still secure all of the required advice and information in order to be able to issue a plan, and must have regard to the views and wishes of a child, the child’s parent or a young person when carrying out its SEND functions under the Children and Families Act 2014.

Review of the first Schools NorthEast Northern Governance Conference webinar
This year’s conference from Schools NorthEast has been split into 3 webinars and the first session took place earlier this week. We heard from 3 keynote speakers as follows:

  • Emma Knights, CEO of the National Governance Association: “What does good governance look like?” – Emma kicked off by talking about why governance is so important in making a difference for pupils and that with no performance league tables next year and Ofsted currently paused, governing body accountability is particularly important. She explained that good governance = ethical governance + accountable governance + effective governance. She discussed ethical governance in terms of governing bodies being the guardians of a school’s vision, ethos and values. In terms of accountability governing bodies should hold themselves and their school to account and they are answerable to other stakeholders. In Governing body meetings, we often talk about how we can engage stakeholders and Emma provided some great examples of strategies that can be used. She also discussed the 8 elements of effective governance and touched on how governing bodies are governing in these challenging times.
  • Kaley Foran, Lead Content Editor of The Key: “Reopening schools after coronavirus – pastoral challenges and how governors can help” – Kaley suggested the re-opening of schools was likely to be phased and highlighted the pastoral challenges that schools were likely to face including pupils having to reintegrate into school routines and expectations; behaviour; anxiety and other mental health concerns, bereavement; safeguarding; staff workload and well-being and pupils missing key transition points.  With the long break from school Kaley suggested pupils would be keen to be with their friends and socialising was likely to be their priority, staff would need to rebuild relationships with pupils and in practice learning might not necessarily be the key focus in the early part of the return to school.  She surmised that governing bodies might need to reconsider their budgets to respond to some of these issues as they could become the school’s new priorities.
  • Graham Vials, Partner at Ward Hadaway Law Firm: “Exclusions and Independent Review Hearings” – Graham took participants through a whistle stop tour of exclusions, advising that the DfE guidance on exclusions should be a starting point as it provided in plain English the legislation on exclusions. He outlined the basic process and the do’s and don’ts.

The next webinar takes place on Wednesday next week when the keynote speakers will consider governing in the ‘next normal’ phase of school development and what 5 questions governors will need to ask themselves, the changing roles of the governing body and understanding disadvantage.