DfE reintroduces remote learning legal duty for 2021-22 academic year

The government has reissued its remote education direction which places a legal duty upon schools to provide learning for pupils unable to attend the school site due to Covid-19.

The Department for Education announced today schools will once again be required to offer immediate access to “high-quality remote education” when pupils need to self-isolate. But heads have called the move “unnecessary and unhelpful”.

Schools had already been told to maintain their “capacity” for remote education next year.

A temporary direction order was initially published under the Coronavirus Act 2020 in October last year, but it expired in July.

The new direction will apply until the end the 2021-22 academic year, but may end earlier if it is revoked under a further direction, or if directions under the Act either expire, are repealed or revoked.

The DfE told Schools Week it would continue to review whether the direction remains “proportionate and necessary” during this time.

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Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said the move was “completely unnecessary and unhelpful”.

“The government would do far better to spend its time focusing on how it can support teachers and schools who could be asked to once again balance in-person and remote education this term.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added that schools had already been offering remote education “extremely successfully over the course of the pandemic and often in very difficult circumstances”.

The DfE confirmed expectations on remote education remain the same as last year.

Under the direction, the education secretary Gavin Williamson can enforce action through a High Court injunction, but the DfE said this would be a “last resort”.

Confirmation of the direction comes after the government told Schools Week it would be assessing the development of the pandemic over the summer and into the autumn term to see if a new temporary direction would be needed.

According to government data, 236,796 people in the UK tested positive for Covid in the last seven days, up 12 per cent on the previous week. Case numbers have been rising since early August. Hospital admissions are also up 9.4 per cent and deaths within 28 days of a positive case rose by 13.4 per cent.

Grant funding available to provide internet connections

As part of its “back to school” campaign, the government has said grant funding will be available for schools and colleges to claim up to £75 over three months to provide internet connection to help disadvantaged pupils access remote education.

Schools will be able to use the cash to provide mobile dongles and broadband routers.

Funding will be demand-led and costs higher than £75 could be approved where reasonable supporting information is provided, the DfE said.

However Brook questioned the amount provided and warned “£75 will not go far in properly equipping them with internet connections to continue their education effectively.”

The DfE is also encouraging secondary and college pupils to continue regular Covid testing from September.

Following two lateral flow tests on site during the first weeks of term, secondary age pupils will be encouraged to undergo twice weekly testing at home.

This advice will be reviewed at the end of September.

Barton added there was “still a lot of uncertainty about the possible impact of Covid transmission among pupils who are largely unvaccinated” and the union is concerned “over the potential risk of a high number of infections among pupils which cause more educational disruption and may lead to some young people suffering serious symptoms”.

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  1. Remote learning should be allowed for the pupils whose parents don’t feel it is safe in schools at the moment.
    Yes, it will cause more work to set up a video link in each classroom but this would have to happen every time a pupil tests positive anyway.
    Allowing those pupils that have proved last year that they can learn remotely effectively would free up space in the classrooms to reduce the chances of Covid spreading and keeping the rest of the school community safe.
    This ‘let’s see how it pans out’ attitude is dangerous for staff and pupils and can go very wrong, very quickly.
    Keeping pupils on the school roll instead of forcing parents to de-register should be the priority