NEU asks Gavin Williamson to explore potential of secondary schools moving to a rota system

As of the 16th of October, the infection rate in secondary schools is now 17 times higher than it was on the 1st of September

Considering this alarming data, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries’ of the National Education Union, have written to Gavin Williamson asking him to take decisive action to curb this trend, including the possibility of a rota system for secondary schools and colleges in Tier 2 and Tier 3. 

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “We now have a situation where the infection rate in secondary schools is 17 times higher than on the 1st of September.  This is alarming and it is crucial that government looks at all potential measures to stabilise the situation including the possibility of a rota-based system for secondary schools and colleges as outlined in the government’s August guidelines. 

“A rota system will ensure smaller class sizes making social distancing achievable. The strain on public transport in the mornings and afternoons will be less and the social mixing after school will also be reduced. 

“Schools and colleges are already struggling to cope with current infection rates resulting in many students or whole year bubbles being sent home to self-isolate. If this trend continues and nothing is put in place to try and reduce infection levels, our education system will be plunged into disarray.

“Our schools need a clear way forward that ensures education can continue in a planned and coherent way. No decisions will be easy, but to just keep ignoring the data and drifting into higher infection rates with the increased erratic closure of schools and colleges is not an option. 

“We look forward to hearing from Gavin Williamson to discuss our proposals further.”

Full text of letter below:

22 October 2020

Dear Gavin

We are concerned both by reports from our members working in secondary schools that the increasing incidence of pupils having to isolate either because they have, or have been in close contact with someone who has Covid, is increasing rapidly, and by the figures from the ONS suggesting that secondary school aged pupils are showing the greatest rise in Covid cases, which underlies what our members are reporting. 

Irregular attendance causes a wide range of systemic and individual problems for schools and colleges and for pupils. Members tell us that even when in school pupils are distracted and unsettled because of their different, and irregular, periods of absence, and that standards of discipline are declining. We were particularly concerned, yesterday, to see that the attendance figures for secondary pupils in some areas of high deprivation, were so low – Knowsley at 61% attendance and Calderdale at 64%, being two key examples.

We would now appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss ways in which the situation could be improved.

In particular, we want to explore with you the potential of moving to rotas in secondary schools, for older pupils.  This move is envisaged in the DfE’s tiers of intervention. We are of the view that it is now necessary to consider having the conversation with civic leaders and school leaders on what these rotas should look like. Rotas will enable better social distancing in schools, and proper, regularised arrangements to be made to enable high quality blended learning to be planned for and delivered.

We think this is an important discussion given the recent large increase in cases in secondary schools and the modelling for SAGE which suggest that alternating week-on, week – of school closure with half class sizes could have a significant effect on transmission – equivalent to closing all hospitality venues. 

We are gaining very good information from our members who are operating rotas in their colleges. There are examples of very good practice which are worth sharing and disseminating throughout the profession.

Teachers would be in school every day and would teach their normal timetable, but half the children would be being taught remotely in any one week. These children would, however, be taught every lesson.

We would be pleased to meet with you urgently to discuss rotas.

With best wishes

Mary Bousted                                                    Kevin Courtney

Joint General Secretary                                   Joint General Secretary

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