Coronavirus: How schools have dealt with day one of mass closures


Schools saw a “manageable” number of pupils arrive at their doors today as they begin to adjust to a new way of working, as parents “heeded calls” to keep their children at home unless they had no other option.

But things did not go as smoothly elsewhere – with leaders reporting the requirement to submit a new attendance form had crashed the Department for Education’s website. Meanwhile other schools have also been tasked with filling in lengthy risk assessments for vulnerable pupils.

One of the major concerns for headteachers leading in to today was that the number of children attending school would overwhelm already stretched workforces.

‘Attendance messaging is working’

Jonathan Simons, director at Public First policy consultancy, said an “informal pulse test” showed several of the biggest multi-academy trusts reported attendance rates of below five per cent.

He added that “many are reporting fewer kids attending than parents had indicated would attend on Friday. The messaging is working”.

Huntington School, in York, has just 0.66 per cent of pupils attend.

We have asked parents to be responsible and keep their children at home to help schools focus on supporting those who need a place most

Primary schools seemed to have more pupils: the Active Learning Trust has around 2.8 per cent of its 10,000 pupils at the trust attend, however this was 3.8 per cent across its primaries and 1.2 per cent at secondary.

Advantage Schools, in Bedford, had 0.4 per cent of pupils attend at secondary, and over 10 per cent at primary.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said schools were reporting the number of pupils arriving is “manageable”, adding it seemed parents had “heeded calls” to use the emergency provision “only in the event that they are key workers who have no option available to keep their children at home.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson thanks parents for “making the right choice… We have asked parents to be responsible and keep their children at home to help schools focus on supporting those who need a place most – vulnerable children and workers critical to our response to coronavirus.”

Schools draw up rotas to give teachers a break

It seems most schools are using teachers on a rota system.

For instance, Jubilee Wood School, in Milton Keynes, has staff on a one-week-in and two-weeks-at home rota.

Delta Academies Trust has also shared its rota online to help other schools. Staff at the trust are put into groups and each assigned to the eight-week rota containing two weeks’ holiday, two weeks in the classroom and then four weeks working from home (two of which are classed as ‘first reserve’).

Advice published by teachers’ union NASUWT says it’s “inappropriate for schools to require every member of staff to be on site every day”, with rotas drawn up in consultation and agreed with staff.

Stuart Lock, CEO of Advantage Schools, said they had implemented a timetable with resources uploaded every day on the Show My Homework platform, being used by both children in and out of school. They are sticking as closely as they reasonably can to the curriculum.

The Sir Robert Woodard Academy, in West Sussex, is using Google Classroom for teachers to run classes with pupils at usual lesson times.

Out of 1,084 on the school roll, just 30 were on the premises today and about 80 per cent of pupils logged on at home. Principal Kieran Scanlon said it had “definitely started well”.

Talks ongoing to better protect school staff

But unions are concerned about the welfare of teachers. The NEU has today called for virus testing for all school staff.

Meanwhile Barton said leaders are managing by “ensuring social distancing, reinforcing messages about washing hands regularly, and ensuring that areas which are being used are regularly cleaned”.

“We are in a continuing dialogue with the Department for Education and will be talking to officials about what more can be done to protect staff and children.”

Several headteachers also reported issues with uploading a new attendance list on to the Department for Education’s website, which has to be submitted by 12pm each day.

A DfE spokesperson said they were aware of the issues and most schools have been able to complete it successful. They are working to fix it “as soon as possible” and no schools will be adversely affected.

Schools using some educational websites have also reportedly struggled with demand this morning.

Special school numbers lower than expected

Meanwhile, Graham Quinn, chair of Special Schools’ Voice group, said the further guidance over the weekend from the DfE around which children need to go to school has helped keep attendance levels low. He said schools he had spoken to had less than 10 per cent of their cohorts in.

How do you social distance from a child who requires 1:1 support?

But Quinn, the executive principal of the New Bridge Group, based in Oldham, added staff are “rightly anxious about the lack of both PPE [personal protective equipment], and advice relating to the use of PPE. They feel they may be placing both the child and themselves in a vulnerable position.

“Similarly, where and when some children require closer staff contact to engage in activities, colleagues report a significant tension around ‘social distancing’. How do you social distance from a child who requires 1:1 support? Many [leaders] don’t feel that enough thought has been given to staff safety.”

Paul Silvester, head of Newman School in Rotherham, has reopened his special school on a “bespoke” basis to support children.

They thought a third of their around 145 children would arrive today, but after being in touch with parents the figure was reduced to “almost single figures”.

He added: “It is a long road ahead and there are going to be tough times but in the immortal words of High School Musical we are (indeed) in this together. Now let me dust off my pom poms.”

Special schools had been advised to make assessment on a “case by case basis of the health and safeguarding considerations of pupils on an EHCP” over whether they should continue attending school.

In Torquay, one secondary school has been asked to complete five-page risk assessments by their local authority for 51 of their education, health and care plan pupils.

This feels like ridiculous, distant, unhelpful, unaware bureaucracy

Jane Richardson, senior vice principal at The Spires College, said: “We kept detailed, contemporaneous notes of every conversation and decision [with each EHCP family]. This feels like ridiculous, distant, unhelpful, unaware bureaucracy for a local authority to impose on a skeleton staff caring for vulnerable children and those of key workers.”

Schools Week has approached the council for comment.

Williamson added today that the government is “closely monitoring the situation on the ground and will continue to work with local authorities to ensure schools get the help and support they need over the challenging weeks and months ahead”.

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