Gavin Williamson update on spring partial closures: What did we learn?

Gavin Williamson reshuffle

The education secretary has given more information about the government’s contingency plans for schools, after it was announced that mainstream settings will move to remote education for most pupils.

Here’s what we learned.


1. Teacher assessment to replace exams, but no algorithm

The government had already announced that GCSE and A-level exams would not go ahead as normal this year.

Williamson announced today that in their place, he wants to see “a form of teacher assessment grades“.

However, unlike last year, there will be no algorithm applied to grades provided.

Williamson said there would be “training and support to provided to ensure these awarded fairly and consistently across the country”.


2. However assessment details need ‘fine tuning’

Williamson told MPs the government’s plans would still need to be “fine tuned”.

A full consultation will be launched by Ofqual next week and last two weeks, he said.

Unions have questioned why a Plan B wasn’t already in place and ready to go.


3. Bringing grades forward ‘under active consideration’

With exams no longer going ahead, the government was asked whether grades could be issued earlier to help pupils plan for their futures.

Williamson said it would be one of those issues that’s “under active consideration”, as it would give pupils “more time to appeal and make choices for their future”.


4. Ofqual working on solution for private candidates

Last year’s grading system, which relied on centre-assessment grades, had a huge impact on private candidates, including those who are home-schooled (some of whom missed out of grades as schools said they didn’t have enough evidence to submit one for them).

But Williamson said today he has asked Ofqual to make sure measures are in place to ensure those candidates can get a grade this year.

“We’ve already discussed as to how this can be done and believe it will be possible to do so,” he said.


5. Remaining SATs scrapped

Williamson also confirmed that SATs for primary pupils won’t proceed this year.

The government had already announced the cancellation of some primary tests, but others had been due to go ahead.


6. Ofsted to ‘enforce’ remote education duty

The education secretary said that the government’s “legally-binding requirements” on remote education would be “enforced by Ofsted”, and that the watchdog would inspect schools “of any grade” where it has “serious concerns” about the quality of remote education.

Parents who feel their child’s school is not providing “suitable” remote education “should first raise their concerns with a teacher or headteacher, and failing that report the matter to Ofsted”, Williamson said.


7. Free school meals voucher scheme to resume

The government had already said earlier this week that schools would be expected to continue to provide free school meals to eligible pupils at home.

But Williamson confirmed today that schools will be provided with extra funding to help them provide “food parcels or meals” for eligible children.

However, where this is not possible, the government “will ensure a national voucher scheme is in place”, he said.


8. No promise on reopenings, but DfE ‘working towards’ Feb 22

Like the prime minister last night, Williamson declined to give a guarantee that schools would reopen by a specific date, saying the government would “have to take scientific and health advice into account”.

The government has only said so far that schools will be partially closed until February half term at the earliest.

Pressed on this matter, Williamson said: “From a department point of view everyone of us is working towards welcoming children back on February 22.”

“The moment the virus permits all our children will be back in school. ‘Until then we have put in place the measures we need to make sure they continue to progress,” he added.


9. Mass testing ‘won’t be wasted’

Before the U-turn was announced on Monday night, secondary schools were gearing up to begin mass testing of pupils and staff.

But Williamson insisted today the programme “won’t be wasted”, with equipment still used on school staff and pupils who are in attendance.

“Testing is going to be the centre of our plan to return schools back to the classroom as soon as possible.”


10. Ofsted monitoring inspections WILL go ahead

The DfE has confirmed today that Ofsted’s new “supporive” monitoring inspections will go ahead this term despite partial school closures.

The monitoring inspections were initially announced in December and will see the schools watchdog inspecting schools previously judged ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’.

The Department for Education said the inspections will have a strong focus on the quality of remote education being provided.

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