Big questions remain unanswered as schools reopen and big decisions still have to be made. The DfE must work better with the profession as we enter the next phase, writes Cat Scutt
On May 20, the Chartered College of Teaching wrote to the prime minister requesting responses to five issues that we considered key to the government’s plans for reopening schools:
- Detail on the scientific evidence base for schools reopening more widely
- Clarity over the risk and purpose of reopening before the summer
- Clear guidance with sufficient notice for schools to make use of it
- A commitment to valuing the contribution of teaching staff and prioritisation of their health and wellbeing
- Ongoing, meaningful consultation with teachers.
Although there has been progress in some of these areas, critical issues still need to be resolved and we will be pushing for a response to our letter. They are hugely important now that some schools are starting to open to larger numbers of children.
The scientific evidence base has been published, but it is concerning that none of the approaches modelled has been adopted. Recent political events have highlighted the importance of transparency, and there is something to be said for the honesty in the admission of Andrew McCully, the DfE’s director general, early years and schools, that “there are policy decisions that come on top of science and transmission evidence”, and standards minister Nick Gibb’s explanation that the reasoning for not advising rotas was partly to do with parents being able to return to work.
The way in which these policy priorities and scientific evidence are balanced will have significant consequences; teachers and school leaders – as well as parents – will understandably be anxious that the scientific advice appears to have been ignored in many cases.
Schools have been forced to change plans already in place
The discussions and the decision-making are not over – certainly not for the government, nor for staff in schools – now that some schools are reopening. There are risks inherent in larger numbers of pupils returning to school, and honesty about the emerging picture, responsiveness to new evidence, and a willingness to pause or roll back opening plans will be critical for the government if it wants to rebuild trust.
So too will be a genuine commitment to providing clear, useful, timely guidance. This has too often not been in place. What has been released so far has not always been consistent or realistic in a school context. It has also often been released after the point when it would have been useful, reducing schools’ planning time or forcing changes to plans already in place. While we recognise that the understanding of effective approaches constantly grows, this puts huge pressure on schools and increases risk.
Support for teachers in their academic and pastoral roles, as well as for their own wellbeing, will also continue to be key. It is high-quality teaching that will ultimately make the difference for our children and young people – whether in-school or at a distance. Valuing teachers’ expertise and the incredible job they have been doing is critical.
One way to ensure that teachers feel recognised and trusted is for the government to listen to them – and to respond. Maintaining ongoing, meaningful consultation with teachers and engaging with their professional expertise demonstrates that they are valued and helps to ensure that any guidance is practical and feasible in schools.
We are well aware that there are no easy answers. However, teachers and school leaders are, and always have been, committed to doing the best possible job for the children and young people they serve. They need to be trusted to do so and recognised for their professionalism and hard work.
The government must ensure that its next steps are closely monitored and frequently reviewed. It must not just push ahead and disregard teachers’ concerns.