The last six months have polarised opinion on the best way for our education system to respond to challenges presented by this global pandemic and perhaps the biggest national crisis in many of our lifetimes
At a national policy level, livelihoods and lives are held in tension. The rhetoric/mantra has shifted from saving the NHS to protecting education and the economy. If education is one of two fundamental priorities, then surely a proper investment in ensuring sufficient capacity must be the imperative.
There has been much discussion about the growing attainment gap and the urgency to recover any lost education ground across the entire system. However, an unreasonable expectation is being placed on school leaders to close the gap in very short order, and to respond to unreasonable scrutiny and accountability on the pace of any recovery could prove counterproductive.
Head teachers, school business leaders and teachers have worked relentlessly and with very little rest for the last six months. Many senior leaders in schools have no contractual entitlement to any annual leave and have worked with only occasional days off since March. The education workforce is exhausted, anxious about the uncertainty and continually wrestling with new measures as the virus continues with a firm grip on society.
School leaders should not be expected to make clinical, public health or other decisions based on epidemiological knowledge: advice must be definitive. We have consulted extensively with our members and other stakeholder groups and received a frequent and consistent set of messages.
Here at the Institute of School Business Leadership, we are appealing to the government to consider the following principles as we continue with the national effort to tackle the harsh reality of a virus that we are likely to have to live with for many more months, absolutely recognising the importance of setting reasonable expectations that will ensure children in the country have vital access to education.
- Reduce accountability expectations – both administrative and pedagogical – to an absolute minimum.
- Consider carefully the pros and cons of introducing inspections too soon.
- Minimise further data collection and returns.
- Consider carefully the pros and cons of reintroducing a testing and examinations regime, particularly up to year 11.
- Give school leaders the space to manage recovery at a pace that is appropriate for their context.
- Not only fund but also support schools in helping the most vulnerable children through road-tested and well-researched sector-led interventions, including easy and sustainable access to remote learning.
- Recognise that additional funding will be required in order for schools to meet the ongoing school adjustments and challenges related to COVID-19.
- Ensure absolute clarity related to accountability for any infections and their management thereafter in school settings.
- Ensure access to an effective testing facility for all schools – for both staff and pupils.