A new way forward for somerset schools?

The National Education Union have proposed a ten point plan as a guide to getting children back to school safely. The plan which was shared with The Leveller® by NEU secretary Robin Head is itemised below. We put the plan to Somerset County Council, to see how they viewed it as a way forward. After all it is SCC that have ultimate responsibility for deciding how and when schools reopen.

The SCC spokesperson told us “We welcome the input of the NEU and note the proposals and the request for a national plan. We’ll await the government’s response with great interest. As well as supporting children of critical workers, the focus on vulnerable children, those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and children and young people receiving support from social care, has been central throughout and will continue to be over the coming months. The County Council is profoundly grateful to education leaders and their staff for their huge efforts, during this pandemic. It has provided advice and guidance to both schools and early years providers about how to manage extending provision, as well as practical support including funding and supplying emergency PPE packs for all school and early years settings.

Robin Head told us that the NEU’s 10-point plan for education addresses the needs of all children and young people. Many will be feeling isolated in their homes, so the NEU proposes a summer holiday offer and a focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They are far reaching. They require a significant additional investment in education which is needed to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.

A ten-point plan for children and young people

  • 1                           Disadvantaged children and young people and their families must be a key priority. They must not become casualties of COVID. 
     2                           Free school meals must continue to be provided over the summer holidays so that disadvantaged children do not go hungry. Holiday hunger was real pre COVID – it will be worse this summer.
    3                           Local authorities must be funded to make a summer holiday local offer to children and young people.  Local authorities should coordinate the planning of summer holiday clubs, particularly in areas of deprivation, so that children and young people have a safe place to go to and positive activities to engage and interest them, and build their confidence for a successful return to school in September. Places for those on Free School Meals should be fully funded by Government.
  • 4. Public buildings, such as libraries and sports halls, civic centres and religious buildings should be used to expand the space available to schools so that social distancing can be achieved, with greater numbers of pupils being educated in non-school settings, if not in schools.
  • 5 Qualified teachers who have left the profession should be encouraged to return to teaching. They will be needed as class sizes will be smaller. This will help all children who have gone through a traumatic time during the crisis, and in particular disadvantaged children who will benefit greatly from lower pupil/teacher ratios.
    6   GCSE and A levels must be changed to provide a fair assessment of young people’s attainment.  They cannot be expected to cover all the current syllabus because they have had less teaching time.  This could involve a combination of teacher assessment and slimmed down exams, with more choice of questions.  Whatever the decisions made, teachers, pupils and their parents need to know that the emergency measures adopted for GCSE and A level exams in 2020 will not be repeated in 2021.  Government will need to reassure all those involved that this will be a fair process that will not disadvantage young people and their futures.  Primary SATs should not take place because they are mainly a school accountability measure and will not be comparable to previous or subsequent years. 
  • 7  Plans must be made for blended learning – pupils learning at school and at home – from September and into the next academic year, with all pupils having both face-to-face contact and remote learning when this is safe. These plans will be needed in case of a second spike or a rise in a local R rate.  This must be resourced by government and teachers supported to develop blended learning as has happened in Scotland.
    8 Children and young people living in poverty and low- income homes must be given the resources they need to learn at home, including access to books and creative resources, as well as technology.  700 thousand children live in homes without internet access.  This must be provided by government so that these children are able to access on-line learning.  Free laptops must be provided for children who do not have them so that they are able to access online learning at home.#
  • 9  We know childhood poverty and inequality limits life chances and is a significant factor in school achievement. We must not lose a generation because the pandemic makes even more children poor. This requires a ‘can do’ mentality – around unemployment, training and benefits as well as direct support to schools.
    10  A national plan for children’s wellbeing should be resourced and launched to support children who suffered trauma in the pandemic and students’ well-being must be placed at the centre of how we adapt education to meet the needs of children and young people.   

Whether or not this is the new way forward remains to be seen. The NEU are putting the proposals to 10 Downing Street for a response. But it is perhaps, good to see a measure of agreement between SCC and the NEU.

Leave a Reply