By Deborah Lawson, Assistant General Secretary, Community Union (Voice Section)
With England now in lockdown, Voice Community’s position is that we believe that early years settings, schools and colleges, and universities should remain open, for the sake of the education, welfare and mental health of children and young people – but only if it remains safe to do so.
There can be no substitute for face-to-face teaching and learning, and we remain concerned that the closure of schools and colleges would only further disadvantage a generation who have already had their education severely disrupted as well as widening the attainment gap.
Assessments and exams
We must consider in particular SATs and other primary assessments and GCSE and A Level exams. Discussions with the STA and Ofqual are ongoing, but in a letter to the Department for Education, we urge the DfE to consider the very real fact that these assessments might not take place, because of the significant and ongoing loss of learning, and to look at suitable alternatives such as coursework and the use of assessment windows, as are being considered in other countries and jurisdictions, to fairly measure and judge students’ learning and achievement.
It is reassuring that the National Tutoring Scheme has commenced, but we have concerns that it will be difficult to recruit sufficient tutors to make a difference for this exam series.
In the longer term, it may be beneficial to support parents to employ tutors to maintain the sector, improve standards of achievement and begin to close the attainment gap.
While we agree that closing or partly closing schools should be a last resort, we have concerns about the workload which is placed on staff in the middle ground, where settings remain open for some learners and closed to others. We are therefore seeking confirmation from the department on the requirement that schools adhere to the provisions in the STPCD to protect staff from overwork during this time.
Before any additional duties are required, there must be careful consideration of the impact upon staff and their wellbeing, as well as the focus on maintaining educational provision.
Voice Community has expressed concern in the past over expectations on staff to live-stream lessons from their homes, and it is essential that safeguarding measures are put in place to protect both teachers and pupils during any online learning, and we must not see teachers forced into teaching live lessons from home whilst also being required to care for and home-school their own children.
Early years settings, schools and colleges and universities, as well as the public in general, deserve clear and well-communicated guidance from government now about when and how existing contingency measures, such as rota systems in secondary schools, would be implemented, and what these would look like, to allow reasonable planning time.
There needs to be more consistency in how isolation is instigated and managed, and there needs to be further support for staff on low incomes who have to self-isolate and for families to supervise children when they have to stay at home.
The evidence suggests that much of the viral spread is outside of a school’s control and it is important they are not held responsible for transmission on public transport, outside or in other public areas.
Community (Voice Section) members and all those working in the education sector deserve answers, and we will continue to press the DfE for them.