Education Committee looks into SEND provision during Covid-19

The Education Select Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on education met on Wednesday, looking into the support for children with Special Educational Needs. Giving evidence were Amanda Batten from the Disabled Children’s Partnership, Ali Fiddy from the Independent Provider of Special Education Advice, Imogen Jolley at law firm Simpson Millar, and Philippa Stobbs from the Special Educational Consortium.

The chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, opened the session by asking if children with SEN had been forgotten or left behind more than other children during the coronavirus lockdown. Amanda Batten responded that in a survey they had sent out to over 4000 families, there was a picture of exhaustion and stress, with 45% saying their child’s physical health has worsened, and just over 70% said emotional and mental health was worse. Imogen Jolley also discussed a survey her firm had sent out which included 400 EHCP families, with 60% of families seeing a significant drop off in services.

Philippa Stobbs also responded that for many children, they were being forgotten, and the waiving of normal duties had led to high variability in what services were being provided, and exacerbating pre-existing inequalities in the system. However, she also noted that in some areas there had been stunning provision.

This theme continued throughout the session, with Ali Fiddy saying that many families felt ‘utterly abandoned’, and that the pandemic is set against a backdrop of deepening crisis in SEND provision. Robert Halfon said that the evidence being given was ‘very, very depressing’.

Addressing these exacerbations of the inequalities in support for SEND will be crucial as schools open more widely, and all witnesses agreed that there was a need for specific catch-up plans. Philippa Stobbs said that we would need to rethink the next term as a period of transition, with an approach of a curriculum about physical and mental wellbeing, reestablishing routines and re-socialising. Imogen Jolley emphasised the need to get agencies to engage better with each other and schools to prevent a disjointed response.

Schools North East’s Healthy MindED Conference this week also emphasised the importance of a proper plan of reintegration and whole school approaches to mental health. While the evidence provided at the Education Select Committee is bleak, the discussions they had around transition and the sessions at our conference show that these problems are not insurmountable, provided the right long term support is targeted at those who need it most.

September reopening plans announced

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced plans for all students to return in September a week after plans were leaked to the press, with key aspects being no social distancing and the introduction of accountability measures for next academic year. 

Logistics

The guidance asks that the return be on a full time basis and that schools should not use rotas. In order to facilitate a full time return for all students the Department for Education have advised schools to create ‘bubbles’ of groups which should not mix. It is suggested that schools use class sized bubbles in primary and year group bubbles in secondary. The guidance advises ‘social distancing where possible’ but recognises that this will not be possible for younger children. 

On a positive note this recognises the need for flexibility and allows a certain amount of discretion for school leaders to do what is right for their school. However, school leaders and unions are concerned that this poses significant logistical challenges, particularly for secondary schools who will need to stagger arrivals and the end of the school day, and break and lunch times, as well as create systems for lesson changeovers. Without the freedom to offer any kind of rota, supplemented by home learning, Head Teachers are concerned that this will be incredibly difficult to implement. 

Curriculum

The guidance recognises that the curriculum will need to be revised to cover missed content and advises prioritisation of content within subjects up to and including Key Stage 3. The guidance suggests that ‘curriculum planning should be informed by an assessment of pupils’ starting points’. It goes on to set the expectation that schools should return to their normal curriculum by summer term 2021. After media reports that the Government were going to focus on English and Maths in this guidance it is positive to see that they are encouraging a broad and balanced curriculum. 

Many school leaders feel that it is too soon to dictate that the curriculum return to normal as of the summer. Different schools will have very different situations, and many are initially focusing on supporting pupil’s wellbeing through a time that has been very challenging. In Schools North East’s survey in response to the tutoring ‘catch up’ plans, almost 40% of school leaders said that they felt ‘catch up’ could take a whole academic year, while 45% believed it would take more than a year. This indicates that returning to a normal curriculum after two terms may be too soon. 

Finally the guidance also advises schools to continue to build up their remote learning offering for any instances where pupils may need to be educated at home. While this is positive in theory, many North East schools have been dealing with a range of barriers to this, first and foremost being a lack of digital access. This is an underlying perennial issue which needs to be addressed to help ensure that these students have the same access and ability to learn as their peers, not only in the event of a local lockdown, but as we return to ‘normal’. 

There have also been widespread national reports around lack of engagement with home learning, particularly amongst disadvantaged students. This raises the concern that school staff will be putting extra work into remote learning, alongside the strain of the return to full time teaching, with potentially little engagement and benefit from students. 

Accountability Measures

Ofsted inspections will continue to be suspended through the autumn term, and are expected to be reintroduced in January 2021. For those schools due inspections, the reintroduction of high stakes accountability measures so soon will place extra burden on already strained staff, and detract from the real focus which should be the health and wellbeing of pupils and their learning. 

In addition the plans to continue with standardised testing from Summer 2021 places further burden and worry on staff. While it is suggested that this will help to understand the impact of coronavirus, it is another high stakes accountability measure which will place pressure on schools to achieve rather than focusing on their students. 

Head Teacher at the Federation of Mowden Schools Pete King said ‘The government doesn’t understand the implication of reintroducing school accountability measures too soon and this worries me greatly.

‘In my school every teacher has maintained good physical and mental health. We were able to reopen on June 1st and today have 190 (80% of) Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children attending as well as a further 40 key worker youngsters from other year groups. Other children are sent a daily, bespoke homework. Parents have been universally appreciative. What is the origin of this success? The relaxation of the testing regime has enabled me to focus on what is really important – maintaining the health and wellbeing of our school community. 

‘By only asking staff to teach a daily English, maths and an outdoor lesson, with no performance checking, it has minimised their anxiety and helped to reassure parents of our safe provision. Reintroducing testing will adversely change the tone in schools immediately and be so counterproductive. The government must rethink its timescale on this and please, just trust us.’

Mental Health and wellbeing

It has become apparent in recent weeks that the biggest concern with a wider return to school will be the potential exacerbation of mental health and wellbeing issues that schools face. Just last week it was reported that at a school in Middlesbrough 40 students had experienced bereavements so far – well above what the school would normally deal with in a given year. In addition to this, there have been reports that students will be feeling increased stress and anxiety, that relationships may have broken down and some may have experienced trauma due to the rise in financial instability and a rise in domestic abuse. 

Following Schools North East’s Healthy MindED 2020 Conference, which was attended by 1,200 North East school practitioners, it has become increasingly clear for the need to address these issues proactively, and implement a ‘recovery curriculum’ which focuses on ensuring children feel safe and are ready to learn before or alongside any intensive learning or catch up begins. 

While the guidance released does acknowledge the possible mental health and behavioural issues that may arise, for many school leaders it fails to reflect the importance of addressing these. By focusing heavily on curriculum and accountability measures the guidance runs a risk of promoting a return to normal too soon, before schools, or students are ready for this. 

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East, said ‘The guidance released for September has come just over two weeks from the end of term, leaving little time for school leaders to plan the significant logistical changes that will need to take place to bring pupils back safely, alongside revising their curriculum and planning for the ‘catch up’. This increased burden on school staff who have worked tirelessly since lockdown began, will significantly impact staff wellbeing and put them at risk of burnout. 

‘Furthermore the confirmation that the Department for Education will go ahead with phonics testing and SATs, as well as a full suite of GCSE and A Level assessments in the summer, puts further undue pressure on our school leaders and teaching staff. This is at a time when they need to focus first and foremost on ensuring that school is a physically and mentally safe place and helping students get to a place where they are ready to learn again.

The North East has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as existing high levels of deprivation have been exacerbated. With many of our families facing increased financial hardship and bereavements the focus needs to be on recovery rather than testing and inspections.’

Schools North East will continue to support schools during this difficult time. It is important that we understand how you as school leaders feel about this guidance. Please let us know by filling in this very short survey.

“Nobody asked us how we are doing”

The ongoing situation and school closures as result of Covid-19 have a number of different implications for the education sector. We want to dig deeper into these issues, with help from the experts. This week, Dr Beng Huat See, Associate Professor (Research) in the School of Education at Durham University, looks at teacher wellbeing during the lockdown period.

The Spring term of 2020 will always be remembered in the history of education as the time when normal teaching, as we know it, stopped. This period saw the biggest test on of the use of distance learning for mass education. But not all teachers have been trained or are familiar with the use of education technological tools designed for remote teaching. Working from home and away from the usual IT support that they will get in school, we wondered how teachers are coping. 

In collaboration with Schoolzone, we surveyed under 3,500 teachers from all phases of education to find out about their experiences during the lockdown. When we did the survey we were not sure if we would get many responses given the pressure that teachers must be feeling. What surprised us was the overwhelming response we get. We received over 2,000 individual written responses to our open questions. There was an enormous outpouring of emotions, reflecting the depth of their feelings on this issue. 

How does the school closure affect teachers’ workload?

Some teachers reported an increased in workload. Proportionately teachers were spending a lot of their time during the lockdown on administrative activities, an average of 13 hours per week on this.

Of the teachers who responded to the “Other” activities, a number mentioned marking. On average these teachers spent 15 hours a week marking during the lockdown.

The adaptation to the new ways of teaching has added to teachers’ workload.

Work-family balance with two young children very challenging Trying to be full-time teacher and educator […] is stressful at times and difficult balance to juggle, feel over connected with colleagues and pupils via video and impacts on home life, i.e. worrying children are occupied and looked after properly when attention is split between calls that go on for over an hour and their wellbeing. 

My workload has increased 200%. There are no weekends or holidays just expected to keep working everyday. Blurry between work and home hours and no empathy or understanding from senior management. No thank you or positive comments from them just demands with no consideration of personal circumstances

I am exhausted though, working extra hours unpaid. Very steep learning curve & massive workload even compared to the usual massive workload!!

It is extremely stressful and takes more time to prepare/plan lessons as they have to be modified from what you would use in the classroom; students have had every kind of IT/internet/technical issue to contend with; students are accessing work at times that suit them so completed work constantly needs chasing – this generates a huge amount of additional work in contacting them and parents.

Impact on teachers’ wellbeing

Despite the reported heavier workload and challenges, teachers were generally positive and upbeat. Almost half of the teachers surveyed said they felt happy and cheerful very often and only 17% said they did not feel this way. Perhaps what kept their spirits up is the knowledge that their job is important. 58% of teachers felt that what they were doing was important and worthwhile most of the time. 

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School leaders appear to have the lowest levels of wellbeing, reporting feeling calm and happy less often than teaching staff and middle managers. They were the least likely to feel effective at their job and were least optimistic and hopeful. This is perhaps not surprising as they are the ones bearing the responsibility for ensuring that children are looked after and that communication and learning continues under such unprecedented situation.

How did teachers feel in the last few weeks before schools reopened?

Teachers expressed a mix of emotions. Overall, respondents to our survey gave very variable answers on wellbeing, which perhaps highlights the complexity of the situation they are in, and the complexity of mental health.


I have enjoyed spending more time at home
I have felt calmer generally. I have also felt less pressure, and my work load is easier to manage. I feel that this time is a good time for children to learn various life skills other than what they can learn in school. 

Relaxed, valued by parents, manageable workload for first time in years, thoroughly enjoying time with my family

My stress levels have reduced. 

Much less stressed, fitter and happier. Life is a slower pace, calmer and I have more time to read, enjoy my pets, go for walks in nature and spend time with my partner.

Although the workload is tremendous, with online teaching and marking, I feel close to my students and feel that the majority of them are benefitting from this kind of teaching.

I think it has greatly improved independent learning in my students yrs 4 to 8. improved researching and analysis of found information. vastly improved IT skills.

Some had mixed experiences.

A lot of fluctuation. We have had a fairly intensive work experience as we are using iPads to deliver live lessons. Looking at a screen all day has made me feel almost travel sick. I have however felt less stressed and have a lot more time for hobbies, cooking, spending time with my husband.

There have been ups and downs but working consistently in school has negated these ‘bumps in the road’ somewhat.

A number also expressed fear, anxiety, confusion and being overwhelmed. The inconsistent, unclear and constant changing government guidelines have added to teachers’ anxiety.

Confused bewildered oppressed

A form of grief, with a mix of anger, sadness and confusion at times
powerless and confused

I am feeling depressed and am having frequent panic attacks.” 

Scared, guilty, tired, worried, frustrated

I dread schools reopening, fearful of the viral danger, but mostly fearful of how I will continue to maintain decent home learning

It’s like I’m going through the stages of grief or something! (Although they do say that sudden change can bring around the same psychological effects so that’s probably why.) I feel like I am being left behind and I feel increasingly overwhelmed by everything. 

Overwhelmed with the sheer amount of guidance and help, hundreds of pages of it issued, reissued and updated on a daily basis on which we have to act, often without time to prepare, consider or consult and which is changed 24/48 hours later with no warning.

Overwhelmed, worried (about others), anxious (about others – mainly those I care for), disconnected but also connected, I feel in limbo, I feel not effective, i.e. like I am just surviving and doing the bare minimum at work.

Sadly, some teachers were feeling very despondent and the negative opinion from outside the profession did not help.

I’m really angry that the general public seem to think we’re sitting at home on full pay and doing nothing when most of us are working longer hours than normal.

Increasingly anxious due to government reflection on teaching and teachers. Undervalued due to media reflection.

I am working hard everyday but feel the press has labelled teachers as lazy. This is extremely demoralising. We do our best for the children. 

I feel very concerned about the anti-teacher rhetoric in the press and the apparent lack of care about our safety by our government. I feel that we are being told it’s safe to go back simply to shame us back into the classroom. I don’t feel safe to say out loud that I am a teacher.
Frustrated at lack of clarity of what is expected of me from the government, local authority and school leadership

There is also the feeling among teachers that they have been overlooked and neglected.

Sometimes there has been new expectations on us without anyone checking if we are happy/capable of doing so.

I feel no-one understands fully. I feel there is no-one to talk to. I feel disconnected. I work in HE and have a full workload and constantly feel unable to cope. I have had to deal with a lot of mental health and wellbeing issues from pupils, staff and parents, and that has had a direct impact on my mood and wellbeing too.

This is actually the first survey I have received asking me how I am, I wish it could have come from my own school/academy trust first. Sometimes I look at my school work and wonder if I am really making a difference. 

A sad, circular email to colleagues, a note of regret from my Head of College, and then nothing. there are no thanks for keeping our institution in business, keeping the morale of students and colleagues up – and I do that every single day. Yet no one, no one, checks in on me and asks me how I am doing.

Throughout the whole event despite the challenges they faced, a number of teachers also expressed concerns for the welfare and safety (both health and online) of pupils and colleagues.  

Very uncertain about the ‘safeguarding’ of myself and students using face-to-face software. Conflicting advice from schools, government and unions.

Huge safeguarding concern. GDPR concern. Not reaching all children. All material has to be retaught. 

Pastoral concerns over pupils’ mental health and eye health

Safeguarding, health and safety matters wellbeing for staff and students

I lost my mum to Covid and I couldn’t keep her safe so how will I keep my class and staff safe?

I am trying to ensure that we do not let our anxiety reach those levels despite the worry I have for staff wellbeing and how to keep them safe given that children are super carriers of the virus.

Some schools also took the extra effort to track and monitor children who needed extra care and support.

We have an excellent safeguarding team so staff understood immediately which students could not engage e.g. no laptop; moving homes; in care etc. We are at the stage where these students are now being hunted down, tracked and monitored.

Teachers have also gone out of their way to minimise disruption to children’s education. For example, teachers have told us how they personally delivered work packages to home.

Not all pupils have access to IT and internet so this causes problems, and we are asked for paperwork to be printed in school and delivered to pupils so they can continue to learn

Delivery of work packs to households with no internet access

Weekly visits and paperwork delivered [to homes]

Preparing paperwork packs and delivering them to students at home. Time includes the driving/walking between villages for delivery.

All in all, our teachers are coping remarkably well working under very challenging conditions. This perhaps is a tribute to the resilience and quality of our teachers, something we should be very proud of. Being in lockdown has created a barrier in understanding how teachers are doing and what they are doing. Our study has given us a glimpse into the lives of teachers in those difficult months. We are very grateful to all the teachers who have shared with us how they felt.

Post Covid-19 Mental Health a key concern for school staff

The Covid-19 pandemic will be seen as the defining issue for a generation.  As we come out of ‘lockdown’ and move toward full reopening, there is an anticipation that schools across the country will be facing a deluge of related mental health issues affecting students and staff such as we’ve never seen before.

The fourth Schools North East Healthy MindED Conference attracted over 1,200 practitioners from every corner of the North East highlighting how important the topic is for schools as they plan to extend their opening. Due to the lockdown, the event was held virtually across two days, allowing us to connect with more school staff and to engage in great conversations around how to approach these issues. 

A focus on mental health and wellbeing will be crucial in the recovery as schools open to all children in September, and so this added online reach to a variety of school staff is essential in promoting whole school approaches to mental health.

The conference featured expert speakers, practical sessions, debates, and panels, all aimed at helping schools to deal practically with the myriad of issues that they may face, now and over the next few months as they begin the recovery from the impact of the Covid lockdown. The four main strands explored were behaviour, trauma, staff wellbeing, and the recovery curriculum.

Day 1

Following an introduction to the conference from Schools North East’s Director, Chris Zarraga, we began the day with a panel session. This was chaired by SNE Trustee and CEO of SMART Academy Trust, Colin Lofthouse. He was joined by Peter Mulholland, Senior Educational Psychologist at Durham County Council, Richard Parker, an Educational Psychologist at Newcastle University, Adele Brown, Deputy Head at River Tyne Academy in Gateshead, and Margaret Doyle from Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust.

Colin began the session by posing the question, will the Covid-19 crisis have a lasting detrimental impact on children’s mental health and well-being for the rest of their lives? While panelists recognised there would be challenges in September, they were agreed that provided the right support and interventions were put in place, these challenges could be addressed in the short term, and that any educational ‘catch-up’ would only be possible where mental health is built into the curriculum.

The panel then went on to discuss the wider questions about what children will need, highlighting the need for children to feel safe, that relationships will be essential for this, and the need to manage the messages we give to young people about ‘catching up and lost time’. They then went on to answer questions posed by delegates.

Colin Lofthouse said: ‘What is clear from the panels unanimous views is that the mental health and well-being of children and young people should be at the forefront, not an after thought, for schools planning for the successful return of pupils to school. Leaders should take confidence that all experts agreed that this is of primary importance to ensuring we limit the long-term lasting effects of the Covid crisis. It is the pre-requisite for good learning.’

Unfortunately, as the plans for September were released the next day, it became apparent that this thinking was not reflected in the guidance which placed emphasis on academic curriculum and the reintroduction of accountability measures. 

After the panel session Nicola Morgan, international educational consultant, teacher and author, spoke to the conference about practical strategies around behaviour. She began by asking us to consider ‘why?’ when confronted with an issue with behaviour, highlighting the need to ‘connect before you correct’. She also noted the importance of staff wellbeing, encouraging school staff to ‘invite children into our calm, don’t join them in their chaos’.

Sam Hart, Director of Teach Strong, followed up on this with a session on ‘Effective Well-being Strategies for School Staff’. He said that effective wellbeing is evidence based and long-term, saying that staff should find a wellbeing strategy that is effective, plan to incorporate them into your routine, and to create a community to keep you accountable. Strategies could include nutrition, movement, meditation, sleep, and community. These were about making quick tweaks to routines to create sustained habits.

Day one finished with a session from Cait Cooper from the Anna Freud Centre, looking at the recovery curriculum and whole school approaches to mental health. While the mental health challenge in the UK is likely to be exacerbated by Covid-19, Cait Cooper argued that there is a great deal of resilience, and that this should be celebrated. She advised establishing a Mental Health Action Group to promote mental health and wellbeing across the whole school community. However, she noted that there would be no one approach, and that schools know their children best and should have confidence in bringing about a whole school approach.

Day 2

Day two began with a session from Stephanie Fenwick from River Tees Multi Academy Trust, speaking on positive behaviour support. Building on Nicola Morgan’s session the day before on behaviour and asking ‘why’, Stephanie Fenwick said that behaviour ‘always communicates a message’, and understanding this was key to knowing what a child needed. In developing a positive behaviour strategy, communication was the most important consideration, so that good behaviour could be reinforced rather than simply punishing bad behaviour. 

Stephanie Fenwick was followed by Kadra Abdinasir from the Centre for Mental Health. She spoke about trauma informed schools, beginning by saying that ‘we all have mental health’, which sits on a spectrum from healthy to unwell. Her session looked at the relationship between trauma and challenging behaviour, and how bereavements, domestic abuse, and financial insecurities caused by the coronavirus lockdown may exacerbate trauma.

David Bailey from Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust then spoke to us about the recovery curriculum. He looked at practical strategies for remote learning including thinking about making your materials accessible, peer learning and access to tech. He emphasised the importance of preparation whatever the situation may be in September, as even if schools do open up to all children, there will always be a proportion of children not regularly attending school. He said in a recovery curriculum teacher-student relationships are essential, and it is important to begin thinking about those relationships, balancing care with expectations.

Tracey Palmer from our event sponsor, North Yorkshire Education Services, followed giving a taster of what services they offer schools, looking at stress and providing a short demonstration of meditation practices.

Day two and the conference was finished with a session from Emma Kell, teacher, researcher, speaker and author. This was an uplifting session on the important work teaching staff do. She asked delegates why they went into the profession, noting that there are three main intersecting reasons people go into teaching: to make a positive difference, to right wrongs they may have experienced as a child, and a passion for a subject or working with young people. As she noted, no teacher ‘comes to work to do a bad job’, and this can lead to perfectionism with many risking pouring themselves too much into their work. She asked, ‘what can we bring to the classroom if we are completely worn out?’ With this in mind, Emma Kell made it clear that staff wellbeing wasn’t simply a box ticking exercise, but goes to the fabric of the teaching profession.

As well as these live sessions, there are a  further 18 pre-recorded sessions from regional and national practitioners and experts, covering our four main strands of trauma, behaviour, staff wellbeing, and the recovery curriculum, as well as other issues around mental health. We will shortly be releasing details of the extended Healthy MindED programme which will provide even more support for schools going forward.

A huge thank you to our sponsor North Yorkshire Education Services for making this event possible. If you are interested in finding out more about North Yorkshire Education Services and how they can support your school please visit https://www.nyeducationservices.co.uk/

North East school leaders respond to tutoring ‘catch up’ plans

In response to the government announcement of £1 billion towards Covid ‘catch-up’, we sent out a survey to ask our the school leaders in our network about the tutoring programme that forms part of this fund. The survey received over 100 responses, representing schools and trusts in every Local Authority in the North East.

Findings

Forms response chart. Question title: Largely are you in favour of the tutoring programme catch up plans?. Number of responses: 101 responses.

The responses to the survey show a great deal of uncertainty around the tutoring programme, with almost 50% of respondents unsure about how effective the scheme will be. Of the remaining half, they were split almost evenly between support and opposition to the programme.

Despite this, two thirds said that they would make use of the funding available, with almost 30% as yet unsure, and only a very small number saying that they would not make use of it.

Forms response chart. Question title: If this funding became available, would you use it in your school?. Number of responses: 101 responses.

We also asked what specific concerns school leaders had about the scheme, with logistical plans (such as arranging times/space or online platforms) the top concern (with over 70% ticking this option). Over 60% also identified ‘introducing new relationships to children’ and ‘lack of engagement’, as concerns and over 50% selected the lack of provision for mental health and wellbeing aspects of catchup, and just under 40% had concerns about planning the curriculum.

EEF research

In 2018, the EEF produced a review of the evidence of the effectiveness of small group tuition. The evidence shows that it is effective, especially as groups get smaller. Once group size increases above six or seven there is a noticeable reduction in effectiveness. However, their review of one to one tuition proved to be much more effective, delivering approximately five additional months’ progress on average. This distinction is important as the breakdown of costs suggests that the scheme is more likely to be used for small groups than one-to-one

However, there is variability, suggesting that the quality of the teaching in small groups may be as or more important than the precise group size, and that the specific subject matter being taught and composition of the groups may influence outcomes.

More information on the National Tutoring Programme can be found on the EEF website.

Support for the scheme

An almost equal number of respondents expressed support for the proposals and the majority stated that they would make use of the programme. Those who are supportive felt it was important to embrace any additional intervention that might help address learning loss.

The tutoring approach was generally supported as it was seen as evidence based, with one-to-one tuition seen as likely to have an impact on narrowing any gaps (and a significant improvement over summer holiday catch up). 

Several argued though that this scheme would only work if it was responsive to school needs, and as with those who are sceptical they noted that it would be necessary for teachers to identify the gaps and provide effective coordination to ensure a coherent curriculum.

Opposition to the scheme

A central concern was the lack of information, with the decision appearing rushed and no details on the role schools will be expected to play.  In particular, schools wanted to know who the tutors will be and of what quality. As teachers are best placed to identify which children will need support, and what that support needs to be, teaching staff will have to work with these tutors to ensure seamless delivery. However, there are concerns that this increased workload will add pressure on staff who have already had to take on additional stresses during the lockdown, without their usual holidays. The importance of the established relationship between pupils and teachers was noted (especially in AP settings), and again the extra workload this would mean for teachers as they support tutors.

Engagement was discussed as a challenge that may make the scheme counterproductive. Without details, it is not clear when tutoring will take place. If this is out of school time, there may be poor engagement from those disadvantaged pupils who need it most. One respondent said: ‘The key to success is engagement and as this is aimed at disadvantaged children, many of whom have not attended school here, despite being specifically invited to do so’. Attendance issues could cause more problems than benefits if those who need the support are not accessing it.

Financial problems were raised by several respondents, questioning if this was really new money as it was also announced that the catch up fund for year 7s was being ended. There are fears that the funding doesn’t amount to much per student,with suggested estimates between £50-90 per head, and questions about whether or not schools could afford the 25% contribution they have to make towards these programmes.

Finally, respondents argued that whatever possible benefits there may be as a result of the tutoring scheme, schools want more substantial planning on catch up. Many viewed this current plan as a quick fix rather than a long term solution, and argued instead for better support for responses from schools, who are best placed to know how to spend and build capacity to address the learning loss and disadvantage gap, both now and in the future. Schools wanted to employ their own staff to deal with these challenges, and wanted extra teachers to allow smaller classes and group work.

How long do you expect ‘catch up’ to take?

We also asked how long school leaders believed that catch up would take. Of those that responded to this question, over 40% felt it would take more than an academic year; just under 40% felt it would take one academic year, around 10% two terms, and less than 5% one term. This further highlights the need for long-term planning and deeper thinking, regardless of the effectiveness of any tutoring programme.

Forms response chart. Question title: How long do you expect 'catch up' to take?. Number of responses: 97 responses.

Discretionary Spending

While the Government expects that the proportion of funding going directly to schools should be spent on tutoring, they have confirmed that this is at the discretion of school leaders. Therefore we are keen to know, what are your spending priorities? Please complete our very short survey to let us know.

Cramlington Village Primary plans full return before summer

Children, parents and staff at a Northumberland school have been excited to hear the news of plans to reopen fully, and welcome back all pupils for a month before the summer break. 

Cramlington Village Primary School (CVPS) principal Debbie Wylie is consulting with staff, governors and parents with a view to re-opening the school fully at the beginning of July, welcoming back Years 2 – 5 children to join their peers and enjoy four weeks of fun and learning before the school holidays in August. 

Since the introduction of lockdown measures in March, the school has remained open to support children who met government criteria as well as around 30 children of key workers. Last month, a shift in government guidance enabled CVPS to bring back its Nursery, Reception, Y1 and Y6 children. Now, Debbie says her staff cannot wait for their “school family” reunion to be completed. 

“Our children, parents and staff have been incredibly positive and receptive to returning back to school and the changes the staff have made to ensure they are returning to a safe and vibrant environment,” says Debbie. 

“As soon as the government announced that schools could open to some year groups, I was eager to ensure that all practical and safety measures were put in place to enable the school to open,” says Debbie. “We have been able to show and assure parents that we are adhering strictly to government guidelines and ensuring the safety of our staff and children at all times”. 

The school’s start and finish times for each year group are being staggered to minimise the number of children coming to and from school at any one time. The appropriate two-metre floor markings have been laid out and hand-sanitising stations have been placed throughout the school building as well as outside. Throughout the day the children are split into small, manageable groups (bubbles) with school dinners being delivered to each of these groups to ensure the bubble is sustained at all times. The children have their own desks, trays and stationery which is kept in individual trays when not being used. 

It’s so encouraging to see our children embrace the new changes, adhering to the rules and also hearing how excited they are to see each other again, whilst enjoying enriched learning experiences together at school. 

The school responded immediately to school closures, providing students with an online learning platform that aimed to reflect a normal school day, with videos from each class teacher explaining the lessons. In preparation for the closure, the school bought extra Chromebooks that were set up and loaned to families who needed them, with guidance on online safety. 

The online learning at CVPS has followed the usual school timetable, with guided reading, Read Write Inc, literacy lesson and then numeracy in the morning. The emphasis of afternoons sessions has been fun, but still relating to the class topic. Weekly forest school activities and PE lessons have also been posted online for the children to enjoy with their families outdoors. Work posted by the children on their online platform has been viewed and marked daily by teaching staff. 

A subscription to a digital book service ensured that children had continued access to books, at a time when books could not be borrowed from school and community libraries were closed. 

In order to safeguard children and support families, teachers have also been contacting parents and carers via email, phone and video messages to help them with any issues they may be having with online learning. 

CVPS staff have also been discovering new ways of working, not least those who are shielding and needing support to work from home. Virtual meetings via Google Hangouts have become a daily norm, with documents shared through Google Drive and Docs. 

The school’s chef and kitchen team have supported families entitled to Free School Meals with takeaway lunches and the admin team have sent out free school meal vouchers to families unable to collect meals. The school’s dedicated in-house facilities team has implemented rigorous cleaning regimes across school. 

And the much-loved CVPS family of animals has not been neglected either. Some of the “bubbles” look after the school pigs and chickens during the school day with the support of the adult in their bubble and rigorous hygiene measures when sharing equipment. Some school families have also enjoyed time at the weekends, coming into the school grounds safely to care for and interact with the animals – a fun, outdoor activity for families at a time when other parks and spaces have been closed.

Post Covid-19: Looking to the longterm

The ongoing situation and school closures as result of Covid-19 have a number of different implications for the education sector. We want to dig deeper into these issues, with help from the experts. This week, Fiona Spellman, CEO of SHINE Trust, looks at the long term issues that Covid-19 has exposed.

Covid-19 has shone a harsh spotlight on issues that have been ignored for too long. Our most disadvantaged children are being let down by a system that favours their better-off peers. We shouldn’t need a global pandemic to highlight this but perhaps it could be the trigger that brings about real change.

For years our education system has been dominated by short-term thinking which lets down our poorest children. Much of the focus is on school and teacher effectiveness in the classroom, with little recognition of the substantial impact of children’s experiences beyond the school gates. We end up trying to get more and more marginal gains from the classroom, and this places further pressure on teachers in the most disadvantaged communities, who already have the hardest job. 

The truth is, there is often no shortage of interventions in these schools, nor people who care passionately about helping to close the gap. What we lack is a coordinated, evidence-based strategy for improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged children – an umbrella under which this myriad of interventions can become more than the sum of their parts.

SHINE and Schools North East are two charities with a common purpose – to shift outcomes for children in the most disadvantaged places and ensure that all children have the chances they deserve. 

Over the next two years, SHINE is committed to investing up to half a million pounds in North East schools, helping them to trial new practice and tackle some of the systemic challenges the region faces. 

The funding will focus on getting two crucial transition points right, from pre-school into the first year of primary, and from primary into secondary school – both of which are shown to involve significant challenges in the most disadvantaged places. Through the incredible power of EdNorth, these projects will be connected to a broader effort to improve outcomes across the region.

Much of what we are seeing from the Department for Education is a reaction to the immediate issues created by the school closures, with a focus on those students who are closest to sitting exams. We all care deeply about what happens to the current year’s exam cohorts, but the truth is, we need to place much greater emphasis on the students coming after them. 

The latest announcement on tutoring is another example of a policy which is intended to help, but which currently lacks the kind of detail the profession desperately needs. For all the talk of using evidence-based approaches, COVID-19 is an unprecedented event and there is no rulebook for schools to follow. As well as additional resources, schools desperately need our trust. 

The best school leaders in disadvantaged areas are not clamouring for intensive, academic programmes in the first week the schools reopen for their most vulnerable students. Instead, they are focusing on how they can reintegrate children in ways which support their long-term needs, socially, emotionally, and academically. Love is one of the most valuable things teachers can provide, and yet it’s the thing we often value the least. Just as nursing isn’t all about medicine, teaching isn’t all about curriculum.

There will be some students who need significant support to readjust to the routines and expectations of school when they reopen. The more pressure is heaped on schools to deliver rapid academic up programmes, the more likely that large numbers of students and teachers will struggle to cope. We need to ensure that schools are supported to meet the full range of students’ needs on entry back to school. 

In recent years, many talented teachers and school leaders have been driven from the profession by a combination of high workloads and low morale, underpinned by an accountability system that rewards and punishes the wrong schools. Many more were teetering on the brink even before COVID-19 hit. If we do not resource and listen to our teachers now, we risk losing a generation of our best school leaders from the places that need them most.

Educational disadvantage did not begin with COVID-19 and it will not end when the headlines disappear. The North East has big challenges ahead, but it also has incredible possibilities. We have many talented teachers and schools already, and through Schools North East we have a unique community that binds them together. United we can build on these foundations and deliver a brighter future for our children. 

If you’d like more information on the funding opportunity with SHINE, please visit the Ednorth website.

The Cost of Learning in Lockdown

The ongoing situation and school closures as result of Covid-19 have a number of different implications for the education sector. We want to dig deeper into these issues, with help from the experts. This week, Dave Bradley, England Development Manager (UK Cost of the School Day), Child Poverty Action Group, explores the cost of learning in lockdown.

On 20 March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced schools across the UK to close their doors to the majority of pupils. Faced with a previously unimaginable crisis, schools have been going to extraordinary lengths to ensure children don’t miss out during this period. At the same time, in millions of homes, parents and carers have been suddenly faced with the new challenge of helping to support their children’s learning at home.

Prior to the current pandemic, children growing up in homes below the poverty line were already at a greater risk of poorer educational outcomes and wellbeing, as well as having increased barriers to engagement and participation in school life. Our research shows that Covid-19 has served to magnify some of the factors that contribute to the negative outcomes associated with growing up in poverty.

Yesterday, we released our report, The Cost of Learning in Lockdown: Family Experiences of School Closures. Over three weeks in May, we conducted a survey to gather the views of families in England, Scotland and Wales in order to understand their experiences of learning during the initial months of lockdown. 3,600 parents and carers and 1,300 children and young people took part, enabling us to understand more about the support offered to families during that time, what was going well for them, and what support was needed they have hadn’t received yet, with a particular emphasis on the experiences of households living on a low income. 

We found that the school closures had been a hugely varied experience for families across the UK. 

In particular, we discovered that:

  • Low-income families who responded were twice as likely to say that they lacked all the resources they needed to support learning at home, with 40% saying they were missing at least one essential resource. 
  • Low-income families were more likely to tell us they have had to buy educational resources, compared to those in better off homes. People who told us they were worried about their financial circumstances were also more likely to have bought educational resources for their children. A third of people most worried about money have had to purchase a laptop, tablet or other device during lockdown.
  • Around a third of all families who responded said that they were enjoying learning at home, and these families were much less likely to report having money worries or lacking the resources they needed. Families who were worried about money were more likely to say they found it difficult to continue their children’s education at home. 
  • Children and young people valued being able to communicate with their teachers online, but phone calls were also highly appreciated by those that had received them. Parents and carers valued schools that took the time to understand their particular circumstances and offer personalised support. 
  • Secondary school pupils were more likely to report that they had done a lot of schoolwork at home if they were regularly keeping in touch with their teachers. Pupils who reported doing a lot of work at home were also more likely to report that their schools had provided them with the resources to help them work at home. 
  • Regardless of income, the most important factor for many parents and carers was their schools providing emotional support to help pupils settle back in and come to terms with the events of 2020. Many were supportive of a gradual, phased approach with a primary emphasis on social and emotional support.

These findings give a snapshot of what learning from home was like for our survey respondents during the initial months of school closures. Throughout that time, and more recently, there has been uncertainty about the ongoing provision of free school meal (FSM) alternatives through the holidays. 

This week’s announcement, that FSM provision will be continued over the summer holiday, is hugely welcomed and we commend Marcus Rashford for campaigning and bringing this issue to attention. Through our research, we heard from eligible parents just how much they valued receiving this support, with one Mum from London describing it as a ‘life saver’. Families showed a huge appreciation for the support they had received from their schools.

The survey showed that different replacement methods work for different family circumstances and families had positive things to say about all of the FSM alternatives. However, most families told us they preferred to receive support through direct payments to their bank accounts. This method had the highest satisfaction levels across all the different alternatives. When receiving FSM replacements, families told us they particularly valued: 

  • Choice – being able to choose shops that provide the best value for their budget and food that meets their children’s dietary requirements. 
  • Accessibility being able to shop online or locally in the places that were convenient for them.
  • Discretion & kindness – removing any shame or embarrassment from the process.
  • Safety – not having to travel far to collect food or be restricted to busy shops.
  • Efficient processes – receiving the entitlement easily and without delays.


In the last week the government have also announced a to help pupils in England ‘catch up’ on lost learning as a result of school closures. While learning loss and inequitable academic progress rightly concern educators and policymakers, parents and young people have told us they are equally concerned with the longer-term effects of increased social isolation and household stress. More than anything, children and young people told us they are desperate to reconnect with their friends. They view returning to school as their main opportunity to do this, and educators are now faced with the challenge of managing these expectations, while ensuring safety in their schools.

Our report aims to explore children and family experiences of school closures, and provide best practice examples from schools across the Britain. The report is part of our UK Cost of the School Day project which works across Scotland, England and Wales, in partnership with Children North East, to help schools identity and remove the financial barriers that prevent children in poverty from fully participating in school life. 

Government U Turns on summer FSM plans

The Government had originally released statements saying that FSM would not be funded over the summer holiday period. Despite the Department for Education repeatedly stating that they would not fund Free School Meals over the summer, the high profile campaign by footballer Marcus Rashford succeeded in changing the government’s mind this week. For many school leaders in disadvantaged areas this is a welcome announcement, as it supports families who are struggling more than ever due to furlough, or job losses as a result of the pandemic. Vouchers will be provided via the existing system run by Edenred and schools will be asked to put in orders before the start of the holidays. 

Katriana Morely, CEO of Tees Valley Education Trust said ‘On behalf of the children and families within the Tees Valley Education community I serve, I am genuinely thrilled that the government have listened to Marcus Rashford and organisations like Schools North East about keeping the funding for FSM’s throughout this summer.  It means that children, young people and their families can live in dignity and with a little security.  Holiday hunger has always been an issue, which shouldn’t be the case; food is a basic human need and entitlement.

‘Tees Valley Education and I are proud to have supported this campaign and promise to keep working together with Schools North East and other organisations to eradicate holiday hunger and child poverty.’

Alternatively, some school leaders are concerned that this is another example of the Government placing extra responsibilities on schools to solve social problems. Furthermore, after this week’s u-turn on FSM and last week’s change to the aim of bringing all primary schools students back, the lack of clear and consistent direction from the government is continuing to cause confusion and undue stress to school leaders who are unable to plan for the foreseeable future. 

While the announcement of more funding to support disadvantaged children is welcome this u-turn is the latest in a number of examples in which the Government has lacked a clear direction for school plans and how it is causing more problems for school leaders. School Leaders and Business Managers will now have to factor in time to process these large orders, through a system that has already caused many issues for staff and families. Some schools may have also already spent time arranging their own plans or provision, and while the funding is much appreciated, the delay in announcement means more lost time for these schools. 

Education Select Committee Questions Union Leaders

Union leaders were grilled by the Education Select Committee on Wednesday.

Representatives from NASUWT, ASCL, UNISON, and NEU were questioned about the role they had played during the wider opening of schools. Former teacher, Jonathan Gullis accused the NEU in particular of running a political campaign to stop schools from re-opening before the summer, by discouraging union members from engaging in re-opening plans and suggesting teachers not provide full timetables.

Patrick Roach of NASUWT and Mary Bousted of the NEU denied that any such campaign had taken place, but rather were concerned about the lack of clear guidance from the Department for Education on how to open safely, with fears that the constant speculation from the government was creating confusion and anxiety among teachers.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns supported this sentiment, noting that the anxiety teachers had about returning to schools came from the context of the coronavirus pandemic that had led to over 40,000 deaths and widespread disruption. He went on to ask the witnesses about the quality of guidance that had been delivered by DfE. Julie McCulloch from ASCL said that it had been an enormous challenge to keep up with the guidance, which had been delivered in piecemeal fashion and without a coherent strategy from lockdown to reopening. 

Select Committee Chair Robert Halfon however questioned if decisions by schools had not been made more difficult as a result of tests and conditions for reopening that several of the Unions had set without clear medical advice for doing so. On the conditions and tests, Robert Halfon asked if those schools that were opening further than Unions were suggesting were wrong to do so. He went on to ask Unions to quantify when the risk of learning loss and the increased risk many vulnerable children are facing as a result of not being in school settings would balance out those considerations of public health.

Julie McCulloch argued that these risks were not oppositional ones, and that as all schools opened more widely they were balancing the national guidance with individual risk assessments. Jon Richards from UNISON reiterated this, noting that some areas where the R-rate was higher would have to open more slowly. All said that they wanted schools to open as quickly as possible, but that this must be done safely and that schools needed clear guidance on this, keeping in mind the need to also plan for September with a clear education recovery plan from the government.

Following on from this session, Leora Cruddas from the Confederation of Schools Trusts, Unity Howard at the New Schools Network, and Judith Blake from the Local Government Association gave evidence. Leora Cruddas and Unity Howard concurred with the sentiment expressed in the previous session, opposing the additional tests and conditions that some Unions had been setting.

The Committee then moved on to questions around catch-up. All witnesses agreed that this was going to be a long-term challenge and would likely take all of the next academic year. Along with this, they expressed scepticism about the usefulness of summer openings. Judith Blake added that the mental health and wellbeing issues that will emerge will be as important as academic ones, and that in developing a recovery plan we will need to incorporate children’s views on this. This is something we are keen to support at Schools North East, and we are looking at how best we can adapt the Voice of the Pupil project undertaken by our Healthy MindED Commission to the current situation.

Following this, they discussed vulnerable children. Leora Cruddas said there were three groups of concern: those previously known to be vulnerable, those that were likely to have become vulnerable as a result of the lockdown, and then a third invisible group which have yet to be identified. Unity Howard discussed the Alternative Provision schools in her network, as those pupils that would attend AP next year were not currently being identified, which also creates an additional financial uncertainty for September for those schools.

On Free Schools, Jonathan Gullis MP asked if there was an opportunity for a revolution in Free Schools, which Unity Howard argued that there was, hoping to see more new schools being established in areas of disadvantage.

Finally, the Committee again asked about the quality of government guidance. The witnesses agreed with those in the previous session. Judith Baker argued that announcements had usually followed rumours and speculation, and detail followed after this, when really the detail should have been established before announcements were made. Leora Cruddas said that government decisions were needed urgently, at the end of this month by the latest, to ensure schools can plan for September. While Unity Howard again said that the Unions had undermined wider opening of schools, it was now the responsibility of the government to engage in a national campaign to reassure both school staff and families that it is safe to return.