For governors responding to the national lockdown ordered as a result of Covid-19 was a test of our preparedness for such an event. Looking back there are no doubt lessons to be learned. Had we forecast such a global event and anticipated the impact it would probably have been assumed to be a world ending disaster with the army called in and/or only Tom Cruise surviving or saving the day! Quite the opposite happened in that, despite the awful nature of the pandemic, a very calm and calibrated response was quietly enacted in schools across the country with school leaders, supported by their governors, ensuring the business of education continued despite the multitude of challenges.
A new language hitherto unheard of or not relevant to the world of education emerged in 2020 – Covid-19/ global pandemic/ lockdown/ dynamic risk assessments/ blended learning/ remote delivery/ furlough/ bubbles and diminishing the difference to name but a few. How do we understand and build on the implications of what has been experienced over the past few months and at the same time return our schools to as near a normal pre-lockdown state? The government are insisting on the return of all pupils in just a few weeks whilst at the same time voices of caution echo across the media landscape. As we head into the winter months many are advocating that schools need to be last to close and the first to reopen if a second wave of Covid-19 forces further lockdowns. Against this background governors need to keep a clear head and, whilst hoping for the best, need to be supporting preparations for further challenging scenarios.
In the short term governors need to focus on many things to get their schools back on track and here we look at some of those in a bit more detail:
The first step to getting your school back on track is around the full reopening risk assessment. School based risk assessments (RA) have evolved into a complex set of documents – Remote Safeguarding RA (including remote learning and behaviour policies), lockdown RA, partial reopening RA, full reopening RA and dynamic RA for future local and national lockdown or outbreaks in-school. All the above will need to have been shared with and assessed by governors including the RA now required for the full reopening in a few weeks. We need to accept that living with risk is part of life, in that we cannot mitigate risk entirely, and with Covid-19 eliminating all risk is near impossible so it is for schools and boards to work in partnership and decide where the balance of acceptable risk lies as all pupils return. The latest Governance update from the DfE covers areas that boards need to be looking at now DfE July 2020 Governance update and it is essential that all boards see and scrutinise the new risk assessment their school needs in place for September, keep it under review and ask the question ‘how do you know it’s working?’
Diminishing the difference
As school leaders and governors put plans in place for the full return of pupils it is vitally important to be thinking strategically about how we provide support for a robust and effective return to fulltime learning for all pupils. These plans need to address the many and varied gaps in learning that have appeared during lockdown and to further ensure the hard to engage pupils get the support they need . In accordance with the DfE guidance, that states: ‘Up to and including key stage 3, prioritisation within subjects of the most important components for progression is likely to be more effective than removing subjects…’ – Herts for Learning, through their Back on Track programme, have created resource suites, including English and Maths, that have been designed to ensure that core skills and knowledge become the focus of teaching from the very start of the Autumn term HfL Back on Track.
Maximising new and existing funding opportunities
Whether diminishing the difference, closing the gap or re-engaging vulnerable pupils it is important that new funding opportunities are accessed to get pupils back on track. The government has announced important new funding Covid-19 Catch up premium which comes in two parts. Firstly £650 million will be allocated on a per-pupil basis and can be used by schools to prioritise support for pupils according to need, as an example it could be used to buy into the HfL Back on Track resources. Secondly the balance of £350 million is being used to set up a National Tutoring Programme to provide tutoring support for disadvantaged and vulnerable pupils starting in November. As always the devil is in the detail and the funding will only be available for 20/21, for governors holding school leaders to account for how the money is spent and the value it has delivered will be a key focus for the coming year.
The PE and Sport Premium funding for primary schools will continue at the current enhanced rate for 20/21 and also any unspent funds from your 19/20 budget can be carried forward PE and Sport Premium update. With the renewed focus on pupil wellbeing and the benefits of physical activity governors will want to see the effective use of this funding is maximised as pupils return.
The Transformative Schools Building Programme has had a much heralded launch and after the longest pause in the full use of school buildings and grounds for a 100 years. This period will have given school leaders and governors the chance to evaluate the condition of much of their estate and plan for possible refurbishment and/or re-purposing of buildings and grounds. The programme is targeted at school buildings in poor condition so for most this will be an opportunity to bid for much needed funding! School Rebuilding Programme.
The DfE has set the expectation that “where a class, group or small number of pupils need to self-isolate, or there is a local lockdown requiring pupils to remain at home, we expect schools to have the capacity to offer immediate remote education”. They go on to state “ideally including daily contact with teachers”. These expectations infer that schools should have the flexibility to switch delivery methods from face to face to remote. The DfE Platform Provisioning Programme enables schools to get either Google Classroom or Microsoft 365 for Education installed at no cost. Both platforms provide a complete remote classroom management facility. Looking forward boards will need to be considering what future learning provision may look like as well as being a valuable tool for current pupils and teachers. Further details on the programme.
A-Level and GCSE grade appeals
I have written and rewritten this section so many times in the past week but finally as of today (18th August) I feel with certainty we have some resolution for A-Level and GCSE students. Rather than write more or comment further I attach todays update from the DfE and Secretary of State for Education.
How we ‘do’ governance
A pragmatic approach as schools open up to visitors is for a blend of remote and onsite meetings, there are advantages to both in that some governors will have a preference for one or the other. Through work commitments or home situations some governors may prefer accessing remote meetings or alternatively remotely accessing an onsite meeting – either way a blended approach should be up for consideration. Link role visits could be held remotely as well as in school again, whichever format best suits the participants, whilst Governor in School events will almost certainly mean visiting the school so appropriate consideration should be given to how best to facilitate this. Either way some physical presence of governors whilst the school is in action will be important to enable governors to carry out their role effectively, Governor/ Trustee school visits update.
If your first formal GB meeting isn’t until the end of September/ early October then maybe consider an informal/ remote meeting to review the return to school plans before term begins.
However the autumn term unfolds be open minded to change and adaptation to the way you work and not simply pushing for a return to the way things were done before – however it is key that maintaining the contact with school leaders continues . In some quarters the hope is that this global crisis will have changed many things for the better and, for schools, the time this crisis has allowed for reflection on the different ways education can be delivered maybe just such an opportunity. In the ways we work as governors, how education is delivered to our pupils and the new collaborations fostered between schools, pupils, parents and the wider community there needs to be careful consideration and reflection to ensure, whatever new paths we choose to go down, they lead to evolution in the ways we work and to improve the life chances and opportunities for the pupils in our care.
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