Government plans for the reopening of schools – Friday 29 January 2021

This week I report on confirmation schools will not reopen until 8 March at the earliest, the latest information about Ofqual’s consultation on the replacement for this year’s A level and GCSE exams and the publication of new research around remote education in terms of pupils’ engagement and motivation

Government plans for the reopening of schools
The Prime Minister told Parliament on Wednesday that he hoped it would be safe to begin the reopening of schools from Monday 8 March. However, this was dependent on the Government reaching its target of vaccinating the four most vulnerable groups of people by 15 February.  More details on re-openings would be set out in the Government’s “plan for leaving lockdown”, due out in mid-February and the DfE has said it will keep its promise to provide two weeks’ notice before reopening.

The DfE has also confirmed that schools will close as usual during the February half term and are not expected to remain open to vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, as happened in last year’s lockdown.  However, staff will be on-call during half term for contact tracing purposes.

Ofqual consultation update and a proposal for externally-set papers
This morning Ofqual’s Chief Regulator, Simon Lebus, published a blog confirming that over 90,000 responses to its consultation had already been received.  The consultation closes this evening, and Ofqual has committed to announcing its plans in the week of 22 February. 

In his blog Mr Lebus confirmed several themes were emerging from the consultation and it was clear that there were no straightforward options for how exams are to be replaced. Mr Lebus addressed concerns from students that the proposal to have externally-set papers or tasks to help teachers to assess their students objectively were ‘mini exams’ and explained that an externally-set task would help teachers by providing them with an external reference point, giving them greater confidence in the grade they were awarding.

COVID-19: Pupil motivation around remote education is a significant concern
Newly published research by Ofsted has found that pupils’ engagement and motivation around remote education is a significant challenge for schools and parents and may prove barriers to children’s learning and development.

Results showed that it was an even greater concern for parents of children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), as nearly 2/3 of parents of a child with SEND said they had been disengaged with remote learning, compared with almost 40% of parents of children without additional needs.