New degree for SEND Teachers at Sunderland University

A new course will start in September allowing trainee teachers to specialise in supporting pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) at a primary level. 

The course is BA (Hons) Primary Education with SEND, and makes Sunderland University the only ITT provider in the region to offer this course. Students who qualify will be trained in supporting students with SEND in both mainstream and specialist schools, and was formed in response to growing demand from schools for teachers who specialise in this area. 

Carolyn Morgan, chief executive of Ascent Academies’ Trust, which runs four specialist schools in the region, was involved in developing the programme. She said: “I am thrilled to have played a part. It is crucial that our children, who have complex special needs, have the best teachers who are well-prepared to work in the special school sector. This degree course is truly inclusive of all young people with SEND and is welcomed by special school leaders, our parents and our pupils.”

As a region with one of the highest rates of students with SEND in the country, it is positive to see this opportunity available in the North East, helping to support our schools with high quality, specialised staff.

Susan Edgar, Head of the School of Education at Sunderland University said: “Many of our trainee teachers currently undertake SEND placements in our partnership schools but this new programme will support us to take the next step to support our Partnership in providing training with a SEND specialist route to gain QTS.

“It will fill a real gap for schools and consequently the employment prospects for trainees on this route are excellent, as they will be qualified to work in both specialist Send settings and mainstream schools.”

DfE officials take questions from MPs on school funding

Civil servants from the Department for Education took questions from the House of Commons’ education select committee on Tuesday, focusing on funding and financial management of schools. Giving evidence were Tony Foot, Director of Strategic Finance (DfE), Graham Archer, Director for Qualifications, Curriculum and Extra-Curricular (DfE), and Warwick Sharp, Director of Academies and Maintained Schools at the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The session took place before the announcements this week on further catch-up funding.

Chair of the Committee, Robert Halfon MP, first enquired about the £650 million catch-up premium for schools, asking how this funding was being spent and if it was being used effectively. Graham Archer said that how this money is being spent has largely been left up to schools, and that they ‘are seeing a range of uses of that funding, whether that is for evidence-based programmes of work, providing assessments of where children are after a period out of education, or to support children with their mental health or other issues which make it harder for them to engage with education.’

As North East schools plan for full reopening on the 8th March, our feedback from school leaders shows they are keen to ensure that the curriculum is broad and re-engages students with a love of learning. This requires dealing with the impact of lockdown beyond the ‘learning loss’, and so it is encouraging that the DfE is giving schools the flexibility to identify the needs of their students, and also allow catch-up funding to support mental health and wellbeing.

Graham Archer reiterated this further when he was asked about the £220 million holiday activities and food programme. He made it clear that catch-up needs to involve re-engagement and socialising activities, alongside a more academic focus especially for those students transitioning or at the end of their period in formal education. Additionally, he said that he expected ‘a synergy between covid recovery and school reform more generally’. The pandemic has highlighted the role schools play as vital strategic infrastructure, and this recognition of the need for longer term thinking as we look at ‘recovery’ is important.

MPs also asked questions about disadvantaged pupils, looking at whether or not pupil premium is sufficiently targeted towards the long-term disadvantaged, as it applies to all eligible pupils for free school meals at any point over the past six years. Tony Foot defended the six-year rule as the best funding measure to target disadvantage, reflecting that there are some children who move in and out of free school meal eligibility. It will of course be important to these students as we come out of the lockdown, as more children may temporarily enter this group. However, the impact of disadvantage goes beyond the pandemic, with research from Durham University Evidence Centre for Education showing that attainment is affected by every year a child is on free school meals.

Finally, the panel were asked about the National Tutoring Programme. Graham Archer said that around 125,000 children signed up for the NTP, with 700 of the planned 1000 academic mentors delivered through Teach First in schools. Current plans aim to double the number of students receiving support from a mentor through targeted advertising in all regions to ensure that schools take up the offer throughout the country.

While any support is welcome, it is not clear that the NTP is suitable for all schools. Schools in the North East are looking to their own staff, due to the importance of established relationships in ensuring children are engaged in learning. Several schools have also reported that despite applying for mentors, they have received little further information, possibly highlighting the different levels of tutoring capacity across the country. The approach to ‘catch-up’ must avoid a one-size fits all policy, with trust in the teaching profession to find the best solutions for their students.

Schools North East reacts to three major education announcements

The government has announced a return to school for all students, a new educational recovery package, and the 2021 assessment arrangements for GCSE and A Level. It is crucial that the Education Secretary and Department for Education stands by the profession and gives schools the support they need to implement a successful return, as well as in the assessment process. 

The Return to School

Despite calls from Head Teachers and Unions, including Schools North East’s own ‘Roadmap to reopening’ for a phased and flexible reopening, on Monday the Prime Minister announced that all students would be returning from 8th March.

While Schools North East firmly believes that it is a top priority to get all children back to school, this must be done in a safe, and sustainable manner. The decision to return all children to the classroom from 8th March, without any additional precautions of a phased return or rota system, is a very big step to take at this stage and has the potential to lead to further serious disruption for schools and our students. When all children returned to the classroom in the autumn term, we saw widespread disruption from individuals, bubbles and even whole year groups being required to isolate, with some missing several weeks of in-person teaching. The evidence for school transmissions has been widely disputed and debated, and the roles that schools play in transmission rates is still unclear. 

This ‘big bang’ approach, as it has been termed, is very different to that of the other UK devolved governments, which has seen the announcement of phased returns of primary and secondary students. Furthermore, the decision to return without offering a vaccine to all teaching staff puts the health and wellbeing of frontline staff at risk, and will cause even more disruption to schools. Our staff have worked ceaselessly, going above and beyond throughout the pandemic, at huge risk to their own personal health and safety. Not being prioritised for a vaccine prior to the full return is incredibly disappointing and fails to recognise the hard work of our staff and the risks they will continue to face in the classroom. 

Teacher Assessed Grades

The decision over how to assess 2021 exams has been long overdue. This week’s announcement that grades will be teacher assessed will be a relief to staff and students who have spent the year in uncertainty, particularly after the chaos around the algorithm for 2020 exams. 

This decision has come incredibly late in the year with only a few months left for students and teachers to prepare and work towards these assessments. Schools North East and school leaders have been calling for a decision on a contingency examination system since June of last year. While the announcement does cut down on the uncertainty schools face, staff must wait until the end of the Spring term for further guidance, further impacting the amount of time schools have to prepare. The decision to implement time for an appeals process also potentially adds a significant additional burden on schools over the, much needed, summer break. The appeals process itself appears to prioritise those students who need grades for university, potentially disadvantaging those students who need grades to enter employment or apprenticeships. This is particularly significant in areas like the North East which have more students who progress directly to employment or non-university destinations. 

However, while teacher assessed grades are not a perfect solution to the problem, at this incredibly late stage, and given the significant disruptions students have faced this year, we believe that this is the most practical course of action left to ensure that students are fairly assessed and that disadvantaged students are not unfairly penalised by assumptions about prior or geographical performance. 

The decision to place trust in the professional judgement of teachers is long overdue and provides an opportunity to think about how we approach assessing all our students, at both primary and secondary, in the long term. It is imperative though that the Secretary of State for Education, the wider government, and the DfE stand squarely behind our schools when exam results are announced in the summer and the inevitable criticism of teacher assessed grades will no doubt reach a peak. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, schools are strategic national infrastructure that have a crucial role to play in society and the economy, and as such we need to protect them proactively and ensure that they are supported by timely, effective, clear decision-making, and guidance to be able to ensure the fairest outcomes for our children and young people.

We would love to know your thoughts on this announcement. Please complete our short survey to help us understand how this impacts your school.

New educational recovery package

As well as two major education announcements, the Government also released details of a new educational recovery package. The announcement of more funding to aid the recovery of our students, who have now seen two academic years of their education significantly disrupted, is very welcome. This is important particularly for our most disadvantaged students who have suffered the most learning loss throughout the pandemic. However, schools should have far greater discretion over how they support their students through ‘catch up’ and recovery. As the National Tutoring Programme has seen low engagement in the region, more funding for this does not seem to be the solution. 

In a Schools North East survey earlier this year, fewer than 20% of school leaders surveyed were engaging with the programme, and of those, one third were unsure if they would continue. School leaders have commented on the lack of available mentors, as well as a lack of engagement from students, with many also feeling that external tutors are not best placed to support their students. 

Coupled with this, there are significant concerns around proposals to run ‘catch up’ programmes over the summer break likely to exacerbate low morale, staff mental health and wellbeing, after 12 months of massively increased workloads and facilitating both in class teaching and remote learning. School staff are already exhausted and have lost out on many school holidays in the past year dealing with crisis, positive Covid tests, and last minute government announcements. Continuing to place extra burdens on staff who are already overwhelmed may have serious long term effects on teacher retention. 

Summer programmes focusing on academic catch up are unlikely to receive positive engagement from students.  NE school leaders have consistently spoken of the need to focus on physical wellbeing and social and emotional development, which have also been severely impacted due to Covid.  Most importantly, we don’t yet know the full extent of the ‘learning loss’ students have suffered, and before implementing any plans to combat this, policymakers should be working with school leaders to discover exactly what has been ‘lost’ and then develop long term, effective solutions.

Going forwards

Schools North East will continue to lobby on behalf of North East schools, representing your voice to policymakers. We have more MP Roundtables coming up ahead of the return to school, and will be continuing with these in the future. We are also working towards a recovery plan for the region. If you have any thoughts on this please get in touch.

Recovery plans needed as clock ticks on ‘return to school’

With increasing pressure on the Government it seems clear that a return to school in some form will take place in March. While we have published a ‘Roadmap to Reopening’ with proposals for a safe return, that is only the start, with plans around longer term recovery and system reform urgently needed. 

‘Catch up’ and ‘recovery’ are terms that have become buzzwords in the education sector since as early as last spring, when children had only seen a few weeks of disruption in their learning. Now almost a year on, children have lost six months in school, and seen almost a full academic year significantly disrupted. Whilst schools have done their utmost to minimise the impact through remote learning, there is no replacement for learning in school, and the impact on mental health, and social and emotional development, as well as academic learning, has potentially been huge. Although the Government has made money available for ‘catch up’ through the National Tutoring Programme, this has not seen significant levels of engagement and has been stalled due to further lockdown and school closures. There is also a widespread feeling that this will simply not be enough to deal with the impact of Covid-19, with no modification to the curriculum and a persistence from the Department for Education in returning to high stakes accountability measures as soon as possible. 

While Sir Kevan Collins has been appointed ‘national education recovery commissioner’ there have been no details of a further programme announced, while the expert group on lost learning has now been ‘refocused’. In the absence of clear forward planning from the Department for Education, Schools North East is working to develop a plan for recovery for North East schools, which looks beyond covid, placing trust in the teaching profession and working in dialogue with those at the chalkface, as well as creating a joined up approach between education and other services such as health and social care, to better support schools with the challenges they are and will be facing. 

For many school leaders, the difficulty with recovery is the unknown, therefore an integral aspect is trusting school leaders to be able to assess the gaps, and allowing time to reestablish relationships. With many children at home and disengaged another key aspect is to reconnect and engage children to foster a love of learning, particularly with elements they have missed out on at home – physical and practical activities. 

With the DfE insisting on exams taking place throughout the beginning of this year, as well as moves to reinstate Ofsted Inspections swiftly, it is clear that policymakers are keen on a quick return to ‘normal’. However, with most school leaders suggesting that any recovery or catch up will take at least a year, it is crucial that this does not happen. Moreover, with two years of disruption to the high stakes exams and assessment system, in which severe problems with the system have been exposed, and schools have coped without the benchmarking of SATs, this is now an opportunity to rethink how we monitor and assess our students, and in turn how we hold our schools accountable. 

Recent years have seen concepts such as The Forgotten Third, highlighting students who are literally ‘failed’ by our assessment system, as well as the ever growing disadvantage gap which sees as much as an 18 month gap between disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. With the current ‘pause’ to SATs, GCSE and A-Levels as we knew them, now is an opportunity to rethink both how we educate our students and how we assess them. 

We will be consulting North East school leaders and running thought leader roundtables going forward to enable North East school voices to be heard in this important national debate. Keep any eye out for more information in coming weeks.

If you would like to contribute your thoughts on this work, please complete our short survey to share your ideas.

North East school leaders share challenges with region’s MPs

As part of ongoing work to lobby policymakers on the key issues that North East schools are facing as a result of Covid-19, Schools North East has organised a series of virtual ‘MP roundtables’. The roundtables have allowed school leaders in the region to share their concerns and the situations they have been facing with MPs in their constituencies in dedicated virtual sessions. These have been running  throughout December 2020 and January 2021 and will continue throughout this academic year, with the purpose of amplifying the voice of school leaders, and aiming for MPs to bring the nuanced of these issues to the House of Commons, helping to influence ministers and DfE decision making, as well as encouraging a closer dialogue between MPs, school leaders and policymakers. 

Over the course of these sessions, 130 Head Teachers and MAT CEOs have attended, representing 276 North East schools.

MPs that have attended to date are:

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South)

Matt Vickers (Stockton South)

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North)

Guy Opperman (Hexham)

Peter Gibson (Darlington)

Dehenna Davison (Bishop Auckland)

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central)

Mary Glindon (North Tyneside)

Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland)

Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West)

Paul Howell (Sedgefield)

Richard Holden (North West Durham)

The main areas of concern raised were:

  • Staff wellbeing
  • Covid costs and the impact on school budgets
  • Assessment and accountability
  • Test and trace
  • Government guidance
  • ‘Catch-up’ from the educational impacts of covid.

Although schools have faced significant challenges, school leaders also reported many positives, such as learning new skills around remote learning, stronger relationships with local communities, and the tremendous support they have received from parents.

These roundtables have resulted in a number of follow-up actions from MPs. Alex Cunningham and Dehenna Davison have both asked questions in the House of Commons, representing our school leaders, while Julie Elliot, Alex Cunningham and Richard Holden have written to ministers including Gavin Williamson and Nick Gibb.  Simon Clarke passed a summary on to the DfE and Mary Glindon committed to arranging a meeting between the Secretary of State for Education and North East school leaders. These follow up actions from MPs have also seen coverage in regional and national media.

Our roundtables will continue this year with more confirmed including: 

Newcastle upon Tyne North -Catherine McKinnell MP

Blyth Valley – Ian Levy MP

Stockton South – Matt Vickers MP

Stockton North – Alex Cunningham MP

Houghton and Sunderland South – Bridget Phillipson MP

We are looking forward to engaging more MPs and those who have already joined us before, and generating an ongoing discussion between MPs and school leaders. If you would like to be involved please contact us.

Education ministers questioned on reopening and recovery

Education ministers Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford gave evidence to MPs on Tuesday, as part of the education select committee’s inquiry into left behind white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Before moving on to the main issues of the inquiry, chair of the committee Robert Halfon MP asked Nick Gibb about the wider opening of schools, pointing towards evidence from Public Health England saying that schools can safely reopen. 

Nick Gibb responded that while schools can open safely, all the actions taken in school, such as social distancing as well as the closing of schools to all but the vulnerable and children of key workers, are designed to reduce transmissions in the community. He confirmed that schools would not be reopening before the 8th of March to keep transmissions down, and that the DfE will be publishing more information during the week commencing the 22nd February, with a roadmap to reopening.

Last week Schools North East published a roadmap to reopening, which contained the steps required to allow schools to plan for a safe return for all students and staff. Any roadmap must involve clear communication with the teaching profession, and it is encouraging that the government is sticking to their two weeks notice pledge. You can read our full roadmap here.

Robert Halfon also asked about catch-up funding, and whether or not the DfE are considering extending the school day. Nick Gibb said that they are currently open to all ideas, and will be taking advice from Sir Kevan Collins, recently appointed education recovery commissioner. When asked if catch-up funding would be flexible, and be used for non-academic activities, such as mental health or physical education Nick Gibb answered that it isn’t rigidly tied, arguing that one of the ‘great joys’ of the academy programme is the autonomy it allows for schools to drive up standards.

Schools North East believes that it is crucial that as we look towards a ‘recovery’ and ‘catch-up’, trust is given to the profession to apply those solutions that work best for their school. It is welcome that the DfE is remaining open to flexibility on spending of the catch-up funding, however Nick Gibb also emphasised the importance of the National Tutoring Programme, which has had poor uptake in the North East. Clear recognition is needed of the differing levels of disruption caused by the pandemic across the country, and that a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing this disruption is not appropriate.

Following this, the committee asked Nick Gibb and Vicky Ford about why white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds fall behind their peers. Nick Gibb said that addressing the attainment gap had been central to all the work the DfE had done since 2010, pointing towards the approaches to teaching maths, reading, and phonics at primary, and the EBacc at secondary. These, he argued, aimed to tackle low expectations around disadvantaged communities, through a mixture of strong behavioural policies, a knowledge rich curriculum, and good teaching. He pointed towards several schools, such as Michaela School in London, as tackling these low expectations and as such driving up standards in disadvantaged communities.

When further asked about the specific challenges of white disadvantaged pupils, Vicky Ford said that income remained the strongest indicator of educational disadvantage. Nick Gibb agreed, saying that poverty is the real issue, and reiterated his belief of the need to challenge the low expectations that leads to the ‘fatalistic assumption’ that children from poorer families should have a different curriculum.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked if the ministers recognised that there are regional disparities. Nick Gibb said that there are regional disparities, but this was in the take up of the EBacc. He repeated again that this is all about high expectations, behaviour policy, the curriculum, and good teaching, and that poverty is the issue, not place or skin colour.

This commitment to closing the disadvantage gap, and recognition of the impact of poverty on educational outcomes, is encouraging. However, it is not clear that the DfE are listening to a wide range of representatives in the teaching profession, relying on a particular group of schools that do not necessarily represent the complex challenges of schools across the country, or even the communities in which they are situated. As we. hopefully, look towards the end of school closures and lockdown, it is crucial that the government trusts the profession and allows schools the flexibility to identify the impact of the coronavirus within their local context.

Schools North East to support 2021 Lord Glenamara Awards

For the second consecutive year, Schools North East is proud to support the Lord Glenamara Memorial Prize Pastoral Care Award. 

We all know just how difficult the past year has been for all school staff and students. With the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown taking a huge toll on wellbeing, there has been a huge focus placed on supporting the mental health of pupils and staff alike. We know pastoral teams across the region have been doing amazing things to look after their whole school communities and now is the chance to celebrate the fantastic work they have been doing. 

The Pastoral Care Award is for a teacher or team who shows dedication to supporting student or staff mental health and wellbeing, and has demonstrated impact in supporting ‘at risk’ learners. Another aspect is educating others about the importance of pastoral care in schools, as well as building respect and trust of both pupils or the school community. 

As well as the Pastoral Care Award, there are a number of other awards celebrating Head Teachers, Careers Leads and subject teachers. 

Nominations for educational professionals can be made by:

Teachers, Head Teachers and Principals

Governors and Trustees

Academy Trust CEOs

Directors of Children’s Services (Local Authorities)

Local Enterprise Partnerships

Diocese

The winner of last year’s Lord Glenamara Award was Emma Piper from Red Hall Primary, Darlington for her 1:1 work supporting at risk learners in Early Years,as well as supporting their families. Emma’s work helped to achieve the best possible outcomes for these students, providing opportunities that may not have been possible otherwise, and has now been used as a model of best practice across the local authority. 

If you know someone who has shown outstanding pastoral care, or a team that has gone above and beyond during the last year, help us celebrate their achievements. You can nominate using The Lord Glenamara Memorial Awards nominations form. Nominations close on 31 March 2021.

Talking Heads: Helping our children thrive through good mental health

We are looking at the experiences of our school leaders on the ground through lockdown and the pandemic. This week’s ‘Talking Heads’ comes from Alan Hardie, CEO at Northumberland Church of England Academy Trust.

It’s a very long time since I was a pupil, but I can’t ever remember a time at school when anyone spoke about the idea of mental health. At that time, there was a complete stigma around mental illness and it wasn’t a topic of conversation at school or home. Even when starting my teaching career in the early 1990s, mental health didn’t seem to feature highly on the agenda during my PGCE or in school CPD.

Since then, I believe that the quality of our education system has improved significantly. Arguably, this has been mainly internally driven by the profession itself. One key change is the raised profile of mental health and wellbeing amongst school communities. While we can and must do more to support this; there has certainly been a sea change in attitudes towards mental health in schools. 

All of us can drift from good mental health to illness along a continuum, in the same way we do so with our physical health. Pressures and stresses in our lives can act as catalysts for these movements and in a ‘normal’ school year we are aware of some the potential trigger points here, such as exams or transition. Some of the underlying pressures on mental health are structural within our current education system. I could write an entire blog on how all or nothing terminal exams and the high stakes accountability system have an incredibly negative impact on pupils and staff. If we add the impact of Covid-19 then we face an unprecedented pressure on our mental health. 

How do we tackle this? Firstly, let’s avoid the narrative in some parts of the media that the last 12 months have utterly destroyed the education of a generation of children. When the previous lockdown ended I was proud of the resilience shown by our pupils and their desire to make up for lost time. Staff have worked incredibly hard to support them with this. As a profession, the progress made on remote learning, without clear direction from above, has been immense. Most pupils are completing more and better quality work. If we recognise and build upon the positives we’ve achieved since last March, we significantly reduce the chances of the negativity becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

There are many improvements schools could make to mental health support if only we had sufficient resources. I would love each school to have its own counsellor to support pupils in need. However in a post-Covid environment it seems unlikely that schools will be given the resources we need to achieve this. What we definitely can do is to focus on low cost, high impact solutions and generating the right culture so that we can talk openly about issues, identify problems and find the best ways to tackle them. 

As someone who has spent most of their career in secondary education, moving to an all-through trust has convinced me that we need to ensure the key building blocks for good mental health are in put in place in primary school. At NCEAT, the investment we’ve made in Thrive training for our staff to help support the social and emotional development of our children has been crucial to helping our pupils become more emotionally resilient. In a catchment with high levels of disadvantage, taking a more trauma sensitive approach to meeting the social and emotional needs of our children is reaping rewards. 

Our NCEA Warkworth C of E Primary School is working towards Silver Mental Health and Wellbeing Awards with Leeds Beckett University and the Silver Better Health at Work, focusing on making sure that the culture of promoting good mental health for all of their community is at the heart of all that they do. 

I’m in no doubt that, as a trust, we are still in the early stages of our journey to ensure that we support good mental health across our school communities, but we have recognised this as a key priority in our trust five year development plan. As with most journeys, the first steps are the most important and for me that is about creating a culture where our community is comfortable talking, listening and empathising. In the post-Covid world, getting the right culture for mental health may just be the most important step we take as school leaders to support our communities on the road to recovery. 

If you would like to contribute a blog to Talking Heads please get in touch

Schools North East launches Roadmap to Reopening at Academies Conference 2021

With keynote speakers including Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, DfE, and National Schools Commissioner Dominic Herrington in attendance, Schools North East launched the Roadmap to Reopening with practical steps to the safe and sustained reopening of schools. 

Academies 2021 opened with over 300 school leaders from across the region and beyond registered to attend the two day event. Introducing the conference to delegates, Schools North East Director Chris Zarraga emphasised that it is crucial that the government takes this opportunity to reset relations with our schools and, in particular, to trust in the expertise of our school leaders. 

To this end, Schools North East has launched a ‘Roadmap to Reopening’, based on the foundational principles of our Manifesto for North East Education. This roadmap advises practical steps to avoid a return to the chaos that marked the autumn term and the start of spring term, and to ensure that our schools, staff, and students are properly supported and protected. 

Chris Zarraga said ‘Schools desperately need an official ‘roadmap’ to reopening, with clear guidance, expectations and a Plan B/ C/ D if necessary, that will allow our school leaders to respond flexibly to local circumstances. The government must utilise local knowledge and accept that no one-size model can fit all.  

Any roadmap must be firmly built on consultation with schools.  Utilising the expertise and professional judgement of the teaching profession, particularly school leaders, is key.  Achieving successful reopening will require that timely notice and guidance is given to schools.  Most importantly, all policy decisions must protect schools as vital national strategic infrastructure, looking towards a successful and sustained return of all children and young people to the classroom.’ 

Key figures in attendance at the conference included Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, who praised the performance of North East academy leaders, highlighting a number of trusts in particular through case studies. Baroness Berridge also provided an update on Opportunity North East and the Lord Glenamara awards, now open for nominations, which celebrate the successes of school staff in the region. 

Addressing the strained relationship between the Department for Education and the teaching profession Baroness Berridge said that the department is keen and prepared to listen to school leaders, and asked Schools North East and delegates to highlight any groups who they felt are currently not involved in conversations, so that they could be involved going forward. 

On Day 2 of the conference Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner, reflected on what we have seen from the pandemic, and how it has highlighted strengths of the Trust system, including communication with school communities,wellbeing and connection with staff; flexible and fast delivery of teaching and support, ability to share best practice and their focus on the most vulnerable children and young people. He acknowledged the powerful regional identity of the North East and the strong voice of the region due to collaboration. The National Schools Commissioner also responded to Schools North East’s Roadmap to Reopening, committing to reading the recommendations and feeding these into conversation at the Department for Education. 

The principles of the Roadmap to Reopening include a joined up approach, across local government, healthcare and education, as well as placing trust in the professional judgement of the teaching profession. This was a key theme reflected in the conference, acknowledged in particular by keynote speaker Lord Jim Knight, who illustrated the huge amount of DfE guidance published throughout the pandemic, suggesting that this shows too much dictation to the profession and therefore, a lack of trust in school leaders and teachers. Lord Knight went on to say that he profoundly believes that they should be trusted, especially considering their heroic effort over the last year, and that an organisation that doesn’t trust its members is highly toxic. Lord Knight also asked how that trust can be rebuilt, which is a key aspect of the Roadmap to Reopening, asking policymakers to take this opportunity to repair their relationship with the profession, and avoid the stress and discord caused by late announcements and u-turns. 

This theme continued through the panel debate on ‘authentic leadership’ with panellists Leora Cruddas, Maura Regan, Mike Butler, Lord Jim Knight, Marc Jordan and Steve Taylor, chaired by Colin Lofthouse, CEO, SMART Academy Trust and Schools North East Trustee. As well as discussing the characteristics of what makes an authentic leader, panellists agreed that the profession needs to be listened to, with the collaborative work happening in organisations such as the Confederation of School Trusts, The Queen Street Group and Schools North East amplifying the voice of the profession. 

Beyond the Roadmap to Reopening, Schools North East is working on a regional recovery plan and will reflect the views of North East school leaders on what this should look like. Schools North East has also been conveying these key messages to MPs in an effort to make school voices heard, through our MP Roundtables which have seen MPs engage directly with our school leaders. 

The annual Academies conference also saw a number of inspiring, informative and practical sessions from practitioners at the chalkface as well as key figures in the education sector:

  • Regional update from the RSC North Katherine Cowell, Regional Schools Commissioner for the North, Department for Education 
  • Rapid Trust Expansion: A CEO and Head Teacher view Maura Regan, Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust and Paula Strachan, St Teresa’s Catholic Primary School 
  • Ensuring Compliance & Delivering Savings Louise Levy and Julie Collins, The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust
  • Adventures into learning Hywel Roberts, Travelling Teacher, Writer, Humourist, Speaker & Storyteller
  • An evolution of school leadership development Tom Rees, Executive Director for School Leadership at Ambition Institute 
  • CEO collaboration: shaping the future of education Marc Jordan, CEO, Creative Education Trust and Steve Taylor, CEO of Cabot Learning Federation 
  • Working effectively with Trade Unions Graham Vials, Head of Education Law at Ward Hadaway Remote learning, curriculum and EIF Lee Owston, Programme Director, Schools Inspection and Improvement, Ofsted 
  • Leora Cruddas, CEO, Confederation of Schools Trust & Henri Murison, Director, The Northern Powerhouse Partnership

Another key theme from many of the speakers at Academies 2021 was acknowledging the incredible work of our school leaders. We know that the last 12 months has been undoubtedly the most difficult year our schools have ever faced. However, it must be remembered that it is also the most successful one that they have ever had. No matter what has been thrown at our schools and their staff, they have never yet failed to overcome it. They have done what was asked of them and what was needed, time and time again. While the need for trusting our school leaders has never been greater, the evidence that they can be trusted has never been greater either. Schools North East is incredibly proud to be associated with the people who have played such a critical role in our country’s response to this challenge.and who have truly have been the ‘4th emergency service’.  

NNoSS: Findings of a survey of members on lateral flow testing in special schools

The National Network of Special Schools carried out a survey of members, all School Business Professionals in special or alternative provision settings, at the end of January to help build a picture of what testing looks like in special school settings following the introduction of lateral flow testing.

KEY POINTS

Testing – Most respondents have now begun testing, with just over 40% testing staff only, and just over 45% are testing both staff and students. Testing is mostly being carried out by support staff and senior leadership teams. Over 9000 tests were reported as having taken place, with the vast majority of these being negative. 66% reported no positive tests for staff, and for students this figure was almost 90%. 

Workload – The impact on staff workload is significant, with almost 65% spending at least an additional 2 hours per week, over 23% spending between 5 – 10 hours per week, and over 18% spending more than 10 hours per week on the process. 36% felt this was unsustainable, however over 63% agreed that they would make it work for the greater good. The backlog of work because of this commitment may need addressed at some point.

Wellbeing – The majority of SBPs felt the responsibility of testing was causing them added stress and anxiety. Although most are not yet testing students, the majority of those that are reported students finding it moderately or very traumatic. However, staff generally find it reassuring. All respondents wanted to see school staff prioritised for a vaccine and a large percentage would support moving to the primary model of testing being done at home.

In Depth Analysis

The National Network of Special Schools for School Business Professionals (NNoSS) carried out a survey of members to help build a picture of what testing looks like in special school settings following the introduction of lateral flow testing.

61 SBPs responded to the survey:
56 from special schools and 5 from PRU
33 from maintained schools and 28 from MATs, free or foundation schools

48 of these were all through schools; 8 secondary and 5 primaries

Testing

The majority of respondents have now begun the testing process. Currently, just over 40% are testing staff only, and just over 45% are testing both staff and students.

When asked who was carrying out the tests, this was mostly being done by support staff and senior leadership teams. 27 responses said that support staff made up 1-3 members of their testing teams, and 19 said they made up 4-6. 

For SLT, 46 said that they made up 1-3 members of their testing team. 

Very few schools have taken on extra staff to cover this and 12 have enlisted a small amount of help from volunteers and governors.  8 Schools have a medically trained member of staff on their testing team. Some schools reported a real team effort between SLT, Governors and staff to get the system up and running. 

Amazed that we have managed to pull it off, thanks to our fantastic team

The process involves approx. 20 members of staff for a minimum of 2 hours a day 3 days a week

We do not have the staff capacity in school to operate it

Now all running extremely smoothly and the NHS coming to do a check of our procedures

We asked if pupils were finding the testing process traumatic. There were varied responses with a lot of schools not currently testing children.  This may be because they have not reached that stage yet, but others reported that the procedure was too ‘invasive’ for their pupils. 

From the tests done:

TotalStaffPupils
Tests carried out944883401108
Positive results88835
Negative results936082571103
Void tests18

At the time of writing the positive cases were low as 66% reported no positive tests for staff, and for students this figure was almost 90%. 

The impact on the staff has, to some extent, been positive as they have an added peace of mind, and we have allowed staff to be tested as often as they wish to do so

Now all running extremely smoothly and the NHS coming to do a check of our procedures

Staff find it reassuring

Questions regarding the validity of the tests have been raised due to the low number of positive results in the initial days of testing. 

Very concerned about the accuracy of the tests and whether all the time spent on it is worthwhile

There is also significant concern that these tests are not reliable enough

I don’t feel that the testing process is viable. Low % of result rate, false negatives etc

Just under half reported testing groups other than staff and students. This includes:

  • therapists
  • transport staff
  • catering staff
  • cleaning staff
  • other visitors to the site.

Costs

There were a variety of costs related to setting up the testing process, with responses ranging from £100 to over £4,000. Most responses though were between £500 and £1,000. Some of these costs are ongoing, such as staffing costs and provision of PPE. These weekly costs range between £100 and £500.

We need clarity over when we will know the fund allocations for the testing 

and when we will know how to reclaim other associated costs, e.g. screens, cleaning equipment etc.  

A timescale would be helpful

Impact on SBPs

SBPs reported that the impact of testing on their workload is considerable in most cases with almost 65% spending at least an additional 2 hours per week, over 23% spending between 5 – 10 hours per week, and over 18% spending more than 10 hours per week on the process.  This is causing concern regarding keeping on top of the ‘day job’ with an already increased workload.  

While over 36% felt this was unsustainable over 63% agreed that they would make it work for the greater good, and where even just one positive case was picked up it made the process worthwhile.  As the testing process moves on it is becoming less burdensome and staff are feeling reassured by it. 

Having had one positive test, I can see the value 

I do think it takes a lot of time and impacts on the work that we should be doing

There seems to be little understanding that the Business Leader role has increased dramatically over the last year, on top of an already full-time role

However, some did question the reason behind the administrative burden of registering negative tests and felt if there was no need to register these then this would lessen the testing workload substantially.

Registering negative tests is very time consuming

Some SBPs felt the responsibility of testing was causing them added stress and anxiety. This was mainly around the weight of responsibility of having to oversee the testing and the backlog of work because of it, which may need addressed at some point.   

When we were given testing as a responsibility just before Christmas, I honestly thought this was the thing that would finish me off. Amazed that we have managed to pull it off, thanks to our fantastic team.

There is huge anxiety from staff projected onto school leaders

Primary vs Secondary model of testing

Almost 70% of the respondents felt it would be beneficial to move to the primary model of testing with tests being done at home rather than at school, making for a more sustainable situation. 

Self-testing at home is the way forward but discovered today that we are not included in the roll out of this

Home testing by staff would be a sustainable alternative option for our school

With the doubling of testing it will only be sustainable if test can be done by staff at home

These tests should be allowed to be administered at home or via an LA central point.

 Self-testing at home is the way forward 

Issuing self-test kits to staff would reduce the number of on-site testing and alleviate the time pressures and staff time involved

Vaccines for special school staff

All the respondents would support a call for all special school staff to be vaccinated as a priority to enable them to provide a safe environment for staff and students alike. 

NNoSS is a national network set up to facilitate good and best practice, to be a source of support, information, advice, guidance and continuous professional development for its members.  It engages with decision and policy makers, think tanks, and wider regional and national networks to work to create efficiencies across the sector.  The network creates a strong voice of School Business Professionals. For more information www.nnoss.co.uk or email info@nnoss.co.uk

NNoSS is supported by the Department for Education and powered by Schools North East.