Return to school for all pupils in March- Friday 26 February 2021

This week I report on the return to school for all pupils from 8 March, confirmation of teacher assessed grades this year, a free webinar on schools financial benchmarking and the role of governance and information on the new education recovery support package for children and young people to catch up on missed learning and development due to the pandemic.

Return to school for all pupils from 8 March 2021
On Monday, the Prime Minister confirmed that all schools in England must begin offering full provision to all pupils from 8 March. Attendance will be mandatory except for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable or need to self-isolate. Schools are required to provide remote education for pupils who are unable to attend school because they are following government guidance.

The DfE has issued new operational guidance for the school return as essential control measures must be in place to minimise COVID-19 transmission. Most of the control measures set out in the updated guidance replicate those implemented in September last year, however I’ve highlighted some new and important elements below:

  • Asymptomatic testing for all school staff and for secondary school pupils – returning secondary pupils will be tested three times at school (three to five days apart) and will be provided kits for at-home testing thereafter. There will be no testing of primary pupils. All testing carried out in school will use lateral flow devices (LFD) which provide a result in 30 minutes. Staff and pupils with a positive LFD result will need to follow self-isolation guidance and obtain a PCR test to confirm the result. Close contacts of anyone who tests positive must not attend school for ten days. All testing is voluntary.  Secondary schools have the discretion to stagger their return arrangements to support this but should only permit participating pupils to return to lessons following their first negative result. 
  • Extended use of face coverings in secondary schools – previously, the guidance asked secondary pupils and staff to wear face coverings in indoor communal areas. The new guidance extends this recommendation to all indoor environments in secondary schools (including classrooms) when social distancing cannot be maintained. Exemptions (such as pupils who rely on visual signals for communication) apply.
  • Wraparound care and extra-curricular activities to resume – from 8 March schools are encouraged to resume before and after school activities that help parents to attend work and support pupils’ wider education.
  • Supporting parents, pupils and staff – the DfE has recognised that some families and school staff may be feeling anxious about school resuming and the guidance encourages schools to discuss any concerns and provide reassurance on the measures they are putting in place to reduce any risks, reiterating that pupil attendance is mandatory.
  • Adjusting start and finish times – whilst overall teaching time should not be reduced, schools can stagger start and finish times to keeps groups apart as they arrive and leave. Schools should think about how best to communicate changes to parents and remind them not to gather outside the school entrance.

Confirmation of teacher assessed grades for students this year
Yesterday the Education Secretary announced that this year students will receive A level and GCSE grades awarded and determined by teachers, with pupils only assessed on what they have been taught.

Guidance has been published which indicates teachers will be able to draw on a range of evidence when determining grades, including the optional use of questions provided by exam boards, as well as mock exams, coursework, or other work completed as part of a pupil’s course, such as essays or in-class tests. No algorithm will be used.

Teachers will submit grades to exam boards by 18 June, allowing as much teaching time as possible before teachers make their assessments. Results days for GCSE, A level and some vocational qualifications will take place in the week of 9 August – moved forward from the week of the 23 August. These earlier dates provide additional time for appeals to be completed, so students reliant on those outcomes to achieve their university offer have the best chance of accessing a place.

To support teachers in making their judgements, exam boards will provide detailed guidance before the end of this term.

Webinar on schools financial benchmarking and the role of governance
Governors for Schools are offering a webinar, facilitated by Better Governor on Thursday 4 March 2020 from 8.00 to 9:00 am which will focus on the role that financial benchmarking plays in schools.  The session will explore DfE benchmarking data, outline how boards should use it in order to meet expectations and statutory duties for 2021, and point to the questions that governors and trustees should be asking.  To register use this link to access the Governors for Schools website.

New education recovery package for children and young people
On Wednesday, the government announced further elements of the recovery support package so children and young people can catch up on missed learning and development due to the pandemic. The new recovery package for England includes:

  • A new one-off £302 million Recovery Premium for state primary and secondary schools, building on the Pupil Premium, to further support pupils who need it most. The average primary school will receive around £6,000 extra, and the average secondary school around £22,000 extra. This will help schools to bolster summer provision for their students or for evidence-based approaches for supporting the most disadvantaged pupils from September.
  • £200 million (from the £300 million announced by the Prime Minister in January to expand our successful tutoring programmes). This will fund an £83 million expansion of the National Tutoring Programme for primary and secondary schools; a £102 million extension of the 16-19 Tuition Fund for a further year to support more students in English, maths and other vocational and academic subjects; and £18 million funding to support language development in the early years, supporting a critical stage of child development.
  • £200 million (including the final £100 million from the Prime Minister’s announcement) will be available to secondary schools to deliver face-to-face summer schools. Schools will be able to target provision based on pupils’ needs but the government is suggesting they may want to initially target incoming year 7 pupils.
  • A range of high-quality online resources will be available for all teachers and pupils, starting from the summer term and throughout summer holidays provided by Oak National Academy, to help give pupils the confidence they are ready for the next academic year.

As part of the government’s commitment to develop a longer-term education recovery plan, Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, will lead the way on longer-term engagement work with teachers, school and college leaders, educational charities and families to review how evidence-based interventions can be used to address the impact the pandemic has had on learning.