Plans for replacing this year’s exams – Friday 15 January 2021

This week I report on proposed plans for replacing this year’s exams, two new free governor webinars, publication of a new framework to support schools in reviewing their remote education provision and the relaunch of the Free school meals voucher scheme.

Plans for replacing this year’s examinations
This week the DfE published a letter from the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, to Ofqual outlining the process to agree proposed alternative arrangements for 2021 exams as follows:

  • Teacher assessments should be informed by a ‘breadth of evidence’ – provision for training and guidance will support teachers to reach their assessment of a student’s deserved grade. However, this need for evidence must be balanced against minimising additional burdens for teachers and schools.
  • Grades to be issued “as late as possible” – a teacher’s final judgement on a student’s grade ought to be as late as possible in the academic year to maximise remaining teaching time and ensure students are motivated to remain engaged in education.
  • Ofqual to explore setting external exams – the setting of tasks or short papers would enable teachers to draw on this resource to support their assessments of students.
  • No algorithm to standardise grades – schools and colleges are to undertake quality assurance of their teachers’ assessments and “provide reassurance to the exam boards”.
  • Any grade changes should ‘be the exception’ – the process will not involve second-guessing the judgement of teachers but confirming that the process and evidence used to award a grade is reasonable. Changes should only be made if those grades cannot be justified, rather than as a result of marginal differences of opinion.
  • There will be an appeals route – any student who doesn’t believe their grade reflects the standard of their work can appeal, details of which should be “explored fully” in the consultation.
  • International Baccalaureate and other general qualifications – a similar approach to GCSEs and A-levels should be taken.
  • Alternative arrangements for BTECs and other vocational qualifications – external exams scheduled to take place in the next few months for vocational and technical qualifications that enable a student to demonstrate the proficiency required to enter directly into employment should “continue to proceed with protective measures put in place to ensure they are conducted in line with PHE measures”. However, for all other VTQs with written exams, including BTECs and other qualifications in league tables, it is “no longer viable for these exams to go ahead. Views on alternative arrangements for these qualifications should be sought in the consultation.

Free governor webinars
Staff mental health and wellbeing – as schools are confronted with more challenging weeks ahead, Governors for Schools are launching term 2 of their Wellbeing Governors campaign focusing on school staff mental health and wellbeing. Their free webinar on how and why school governors should support staff mental health and wellbeing is taking place on Thursday 28th January from 12 to 1pm. To register use this link.

Understanding the role and impact of Careers Link Governors – the Careers and Enterprise Company is offering governors a free webinar on 3 February from 6-7.30pm. It will explore the key information a governor should be aware of, including the role of a careers leader, the importance of careers in the curriculum, as well as the how to maximise the careers link governor role. To register use this link.

Guidance on reviewing remote education provision
A framework to help schools and further education providers in England identify strengths and areas for improvement in their remote education provision was published this week. Whilst not statutory it can support schools to meet basic requirements using the resources and tools they currently have and take their remote education provision further, with links to useful resources.

Relaunch of Free school meals voucher scheme
The Government’s national free school meals voucher scheme will relaunch next Monday and be run by original supplier Edenred, with schools now given the freedom to provide food in whatever way they see fit.

Guidance issued last week told schools to work with caterers under a “food parcel first approach” to replace free school meals for children at home. Only where this was not possible could schools then use vouchers instead. This week’s new guidance states schools “have the freedom to decide on the best approach for their pupils and have a range of options which include lunch parcels, local vouchers or the…national voucher scheme”.

Welcome back and Happy New Year!

What a tumultuous first week back…

On Monday, the Government declared primary schools were safe and should be open whilst secondary schools had a staggered return with examination year students due to return first. The next day the Prime Minister announced another national lockdown and schools would be closed to all except vulnerable pupils and the children of critical workers until at least February half term. All other pupils would learn remotely. Concern has been raised that the rationale for continuing to keep nursery schools open and the impact across early years settings has not been made clear.

Remote learning
The Education Secretary confirmed schools are expected to offer online lessons and should be providing between 3-5 teaching hours a day, depending on a child’s age. If parents feel their child’s school is not providing suitable remote education they should first raise their concerns with the teacher or headteacher and failing that, report the matter to Ofsted.

Devices and access to online content and free data
The DfE’s rollout of devices and access to online content and free data continues as well as the BBC confirming they will be offering 14 weeks of educational programmes across age groups, as well as the Oak National Academy continuing to provide video lessons for all ages across all subjects.

Examinations cancelled
The 2021 summer A level and GCSE exams have been cancelled and we wait to see what will be offered in their place, although thankfully last year’s algorithms will not be used. It is expected a short consultation will open next week on the options for alternatives to the exams to ensure every young person gets a fair grade for their work. We have also had confirmation that this year’s SATs have been cancelled.

Free school meals provision
The Education Secretary has confirmed that Free School Meals arrangements will continue, families will be offered food parcels or provided with an alternative local solution and if that isn’t possible the national vouchers scheme will re-open, funded by the Government.

Virus testing programme
Finally, the rapid testing programme for secondary schools will continue for those on site, with daily testing of close contacts available to students and staff and weekly testing available for staff. Primary staff will be included later this month as planned, and more detail will be set out in due course about reaching all secondary students as they return to face-to-face education.

Staggered rollout of Covid testing for secondary schools – Friday 18 December 2020

In the final week of a very long term I report on the staggered rollout of covid testing for secondary schools from January, the new requirement to publish information on school websites about their remote education provision and new guidance on holiday activities and food programmes for 2021.

Staggered rollout of coronavirus testing in secondary schools
Yesterday at very short notice, the DfE announced that rapid-result covid tests will be provided to schools, starting with secondary schools and FE colleges, including special schools and alternative provision from January 2021. The aim is to help identify those who are carrying the virus without displaying symptoms, reducing the risk of transmission for students as well as staff. They will also conduct daily testing for those identified as close contacts of staff or students that have tested positive ensuring that they don’t need to isolate.

Students in exam year groups (Y11+Y13), vulnerable children and children of critical workers, as well as students in primary, special and alternative provision will return to school from the start of term. Secondary schools will operate a staggered return, with all non exam year groups receiving full time remote education during the first week of term, with face to face education starting on 11 January 2021. Vocational exams scheduled for the week of 4 January will proceed as planned.

The DfE has indicated full guidance will be provided to schools and colleges on how to set up and staff the testing and those students attending face to face education in the first week of term will be offered the first testing dates. Whilst testing is voluntary, close contacts who decide not to be tested daily will need to self-isolate in line with guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus infection.

No doubt Headteachers and Senior Leadership Teams in secondary schools, special schools and alternative provision will need to start working on this straight away to ensure they have plans in place for the start of the Spring term.

New requirement to publish information about remote education provision
Schools must publish information about their remote education provision on their websites by 25 January 2021. To support school leaders in setting out that information the DfE has worked with schools to design a template. It is aligned to the expectations for remote education, to which schools must have regard under the temporary continuity direction given by the Secretary of State for Education.

The template is not mandatory, and schools can adapt it to suit their context. For example, while it has been designed to be used at the whole-school level, some schools might find it helpful to provide different information for different key stages or subjects. Schools can find further help and support on how to meet the expectations for remote education via the DfE’s remote education good practice guide and school-led webinars.

DfE guidance on the holiday activities and food programme for 2021
The holiday activities and food programme 2021 provides grant funding to local authorities to coordinate free holiday provision for eligible children. The guidance explains the aims and objectives of the programme, what the funding covers and how the funding will be allocated.

Revised primary school testing this year – Friday 11 December 2020

This week I report on revised primary school testing requirements for this year, the DfE’s announcement that school laptop allocations will be restored to original levels and consultation on KCSIE statutory guidance for September 2021 has been launched.

Revised primary school testing requirements this year
Key Stage 1 – no SATs in Reading, Maths or the voluntary grammar, punctuation and spelling test. No requirement to teacher assess, or report, on science. Year 1 and Year 2 (where appropriate) Phonics screening checks timetable is extended by one week to 25 June.

Key Stage 2 – no grammar, punctuation or spelling tests. No requirement to teacher assess, or report, on science. The introduction of the Year 4 multiplication tables check will be delayed a further year. The end of KS2 SATs tests timetable extended by one week to May 26.

EYFS profile – the profile is the method through which pupils’ development and learning is assessed in Reception. This week the Government has confirmed that for pupils turning five this academic year the profile will need to be completed by schools.

School laptop allocations restored
Yesterday the DfE confirmed school laptop allocations, which were reduced by 80% last month, would now be returned to ‘original levels’ due to improved flow of stock internationally. If a school needed to make another claim before Christmas, they would be awarded their full allocation then. If not, they would get their full allocation after Christmas, regardless of whether they experienced further disruption.

Consultation on KCSIE 2021 opens
Yesterday the DfE launched a consultation on Keeping Children Safe in Education for September 2021. The consultation runs until 4 March 2021 and many of the proposed changes are technical in nature. They are intended to improve the clarity of the guidance and ensure consistency throughout. A list with an explanation of all the proposed substantive changes is set out at Annex G of the draft guidance.

Latest DfE School governance update – Friday 4 December 2020

This week I report on the latest DfE School governance update, publication of Ofsted’s annual report for 2019/20, confirmation that inspections won’t recommence until the Summer term 2021 and the Government’s plans for GCSE and A level examinations in 2021.

DfE school governance update
The DfE has released their December School governance update thanking governors for their commitment and signposting vital resources which may be of interest. It reminds governing bodies to be pragmatic in their approach to meetings and continue to hold them virtually where possible. While meetings can be held face-to-face if considered essential and with appropriate risk assessments taken, no governors should feel pressurised into attending a meeting on school premises.

The update also calls for governors to encourage their schools to support the ‘Something’s Not Right’ campaign. Launched by the Home Office last month, it aims to build awareness of the support available to children and young people who suffered harm during lockdown.

Finally, the DfE highlight’s the information available for schools to help them prepare for the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. Governors should ensure their schools are aware of the potential impact leaving the EU may have on them.

Ofsted report 2019/20 and inspection plans for 2021
Ofsted published their latest annual report earlier this week, reflecting on the year that had consisted of ‘two very different halves’ which had changed their regulation and inspection activities. The report outlines the emerging findings from the introduction of the new education inspection framework (EIF) in September 2019 while also highlighting concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on pupils. The key findings are summarised below:

  • Nearly two- thirds of state schools inspected under the EIF kept the same overall effectiveness
  • A strong curriculum is underpinned by clear central aims and accountability, but also acknowledges that individual subjects require different approaches to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach
  • There are serious weaknesses in SEND provision overall
  • It has become more difficult to identify children’s and families’ need for early help and protection; instead, local authorities are more likely now to be responding to a legacy of abuse and neglect.

The Government has announced that regular Ofsted inspections will be suspended until the summer term 2021. Ofsted will conduct monitoring visits in schools graded ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.

Government announce plans for examinations in 2021
Students due to sit exams and assessments in 2021 will be provided with a set of measures to ensure fairness and effective management of the disruption caused by COVID-19. The new measures include:

  • Generous grading in line with the national outcomes from 2020;
  • Students will receive advance notice of some topic areas to focus revision;
  • Exam aids will be provided;
  • In the event of illness or self-isolation, students have a second chance to sit a paper;
  • An expert group will be formed to understand the impact of the pandemic on students across the country.

Free governor training on governance roles and structure – Friday 27 November 2020

This week I highlight free governor training on governance roles and structure, information on the Government’s spending review and its impact on schools, publication of the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 Winter Plan and details on the new teaching school hub programme.

Free webinar on Governance roles and structures on Thursday 3 December 2020 from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m.
Governors for Schools are offering this webinar facilitated by Better Governor and will explore the new guidance published by the DfE on governance roles and structures. Governors will look at the DfE’s latest expectations for maintained schools and academies and bring clarity to their view on the roles and responsibilities of school governors moving into 2021.

It will be a mix of input from them alongside real-time opinion polls and the opportunity to ask your own questions. To secure your place at this webinar, register now at the Governors for Schools website.

Government spending review
The Government’s spending review included a number of announcements relating to schools and education. The most significant was the confirmation that schools’ budget would receive an incremental rise of £2.2 billion in 2021-22.  However, the announcement of a pay freeze for public sector workers earning over £24k, means the Government’s pledge to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30k by 2022/23 has been pushed back to 2023/24. 

Other announcements covered the Government’s new school rebuilding programme, a commitment on new school places for children with special educational needs and/or disabilities and funding for education, including schools catch-up and supplementary support for free school meals in 2021/22.

Covid-19 Winter Plan
Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the Government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan, informing the country of how the strengthened tier system will work when the period of national lockdown ends on 2 December.  The plan sets out that under all three tiers of restriction schools will remain open and pupils will be told to attend school as normal unless they are self-isolating. Supervised activities provided for pupils, including wraparound care, will be exempt from gathering limits.

The Winter plan includes a proposed system of frequent testing as an alternative to the need for self-isolation for people who have had close contact with someone who has Covid-19, which will be piloted in schools. Those who have been in close contact would be offered regular tests and would only have to self-isolate if they were to test positive.

The DfE has updated its guidance to inform schools of how they should operate under the strengthened tier system.

Teaching school hub programme
The teaching school hub programme will create a national network of 87 centres of excellence for teacher training and development, replacing the previous network of around 750 teaching schools. Teaching school hubs will provide high quality professional development to teachers at all stages of their careers and will play a significant role in delivering:

  • school-based initial teacher training (ITT)
  • the early career framework when it is available nationally from September 2021
  • the new specialist national professional qualifications (NPQ)
  • leadership NPQs
  • appropriate body services for early career teachers

They will be funded for 3 years (subject to confirmation) and will be accessible to every school in the country. They will receive an annual grant (subject to conditions) and each hub will have its own defined area and must serve all schools within it, although this will not prevent hubs from working with schools outside their area.

Guidance published on the Catch Up Premium – Friday 20 November 2020

This week I highlight new guidance on the Catch Up Premium, a new webinar series on how to diversify governing bodies and information on a new DfE framework for schools to purchase school furniture.

Guidance on the Catch Up Premium
Yesterday the DfE published guidance on the Catch Up premium which details the funding allocation and payment schedule as well as a link to a support guide published by the Education Endowment Foundation on how to make best use of the funding.

The guidance is clear that school leaders must be able to show they are using the funding to resume teaching a normal curriculum as quickly as possible following partial or full school closure.  Governors are to scrutinise their school’s approaches to catch-up from September 2020, including their plans for and use of catch-up funding. This should include consideration of whether schools are spending this funding in line with their catch-up priorities and ensuring appropriate transparency for parents.

New webinar series: #DiverseGovernance
Governors for Schools are collaborating with Diverse Educators to bring a series of webinars on how to diversify governing bodies. The webinars will also consider why it should be a main priority for all schools and education settings. The #DiverseGovernance webcast series is made up of 6 free webinars as follows:

  • Governance Webcast 1: Thursday 19th November from 4-5pm. Theme – The Equality’s Act and Your School – an introduction to the protected characteristics.  Speakers: Linda Lee Unternahrer, Stephen Edmond, and Jeannie Hume.
  • Governance Webcast 2: Thursday 3rd December from 4-5pm. Theme – How to make your governing board inclusive – tips for recruitment.  Speakers – Adrian McLean, Raj Unsworth, Ninna Makrinov, and Emma Gregory.
  • Governance Webcast 3: Thursday 14th January from 4-5pm. Theme – How to make your governing board inclusive – inclusive behaviours.  Speakers – Maureen Chiana, Prince Caesar, and Katie Caswell.
  • Governance Webcast 4: Thursday 4th February from 4-5pm. Theme – What is the governing body’s strategic role in delivering an inclusive education? Speakers – Hannah Stolton, Dominic Judge, and Siraj Mayet.
  • Governance Webcast 5: Thursday 25th February from 4-5pm (for non-teachers). Theme – Why to join a governing body, how to get on a board, what does the role include? Speakers – Karris Graham-Moore and Jordan Holder.
  • Governance Webcast 6: Saturday 27th February from 10-11am (for teachers). Theme – Why to join a governing body, how to get on a board, what does the role include? Speakers – Sarah Amissah, Karen Giles, Sanum Khan, Connor Acton, and Sandeep Kaur.

You can register for each webinar on the Eventbrite web page.

New DfE Framework to purchase school furniture
On Monday, the DfE published information on how schools can buy furniture using a new framework from approved suppliers and have it delivered and installed.  This will be useful for Headteacher and School Business Managers to look at.

Updated information DfE expects schools to publish online -Friday 13 November 2020

This week I highlight updated information on what the DfE expects schools will publish online, updated information produced for parents and carers on the new national restrictions that came into force on 5 November and the publication of a briefing note from Ofsted on interim visits carried out since September.

What schools must publish online
This week the DfE has updated the information maintained schools and academies must publish online.  An additional section on Coronavirus (COVID-19) catch-up premium has been introduced and schools that receive the grant this academic year should publish details of how they intend to spend the grant and how the effect of this expenditure on the educational attainment of their pupils will be assessed.

What parents and carers need to know about early years providers, schools and colleges during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
The DfE has updated this guidance to include information on the national restrictions by adding a ‘national restrictions’ section and updating the relevant information about face coverings, clinically extremely vulnerable children and extra-curricular activities.

COVID-19 series: Ofsted briefing on schools
On 17 March 2020, all routine Ofsted inspections were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of a phased return to routine inspection Ofsted is carrying out interim visits during this Autumn term. On Tuesday Ofsted published a briefing note based on evidence from 380 visits to schools between 29 September and 23 October with a further briefing note to be published in December.

Free governor webinar: supporting pupil wellbeing – Friday 6 November 2020

This week I highlight a new free governor webinar on supporting pupils wellbeing from a strategic position, updated guidance for schools confirming secondary school pupils must wear face coverings in communal areas and confirmation from Ofsted that Autumn term interim visits will be conducted remotely.

New free webinar: Supporting pupil wellbeing from a strategic position on Thursday 12 November from 12 to 1pm
This webinar is designed to help governors understand how they can support and improve provision for pupil mental health in their role. A panel of experts and educators will talk about how governors can support pupil wellbeing while remaining strategic. Discussion will focus on typical wellbeing governor activities, ways to monitor and measure impact, how to help create a culture of wellbeing and ways this can be built into the school strategy.

  • Panellists include:
  • Kaley Foran – The Key for School Governors
  • Kelly Hannaghan – Wellbeing in education consultant
  • John Midgley – Chair of Governors, Bradleys Both Community Primary School, North Yorkshire
  • Nikki Hall – Youth Mental Health Champion / Nicky Corfield, Headteacher, Kingmoor Infant and Nursery School, Carlisle

Please use this link to register for the webinar.

Face coverings now mandatory in secondary schools
The wearing of face coverings will become mandatory in communal areas of all secondary schools from Monday next week. Following the announcement of the Government’s decision to hold another month-long lockdown from yesterday, the DfE published updated guidance for schools.

Until now, face coverings in communal areas have only been mandatory in some areas subject to local lockdown restrictions. This change extends the requirement to schools nationwide.

Ofsted to continue interim visits remotely during second lockdown
Ofsted has stated that they will conduct Autumn term interim visits remotely where possible. Regulatory work will continue to be carried out when responding to concerns around unregistered schools, safeguarding and breakdowns in leadership.

Prior to the announcement of the second national lockdown, Ofsted intended to restart full inspections in January 2021. The inspectorate has not yet specified whether the date to restart full inspections will be changed or reviewed as a result of the second lockdown.

Guidance on keeping children safe in out-of-school settings – Friday 23 October 2020

This week I report on new guidance for keeping children safe in out-of-school settings as well as the DfE’s amendment to school guidance on keeping schools well ventilated and that students might need to wear additional clothing.

Keeping children safe in out-of-school settings
Information has been published by the DfE for providers, parents and carers on keeping children safe in community activities, after-school clubs, tuition, sports training and other out-of-school settings.

Allowing pupils to wear additional clothing in school
On Wednesday, the DfE stated that schools should consider allowing pupils to wear “additional, suitable indoor items of clothing” during the winter as classrooms get colder because of the need for ventilation.

In updated action for schools guidance, the DfE said increased ventilation “may make school buildings cooler than usual over the winter months” and in a section on school uniform, the guidance states that “while schools will want to maintain the benefits of their uniform, they may wish to consider allowing additional, suitable indoor items of clothing to be worn during the winter period in addition to the school’s current uniform.. Where this occurs, schools should ensure that no extra financial pressure is placed on parents”.