DfE mulls enforcing remote learning expectations

Education secretary Gavin Williamson will consider ordering schools to provide a minimum level of remote education should their area go into local lockdown in autumn.

In its reopening guidance, published today, the Department for Education said it expected schools to have the capacity to offer “immediate remote education” should a group of pupils need to self-isolate, or if their whole premises needs to close temporarily because of a spike in cases.

In developing contingency plans, schools will be expected to set assignments “so that pupils have meaningful and ambitious work each day in a number of different subjects”.

The guidance also states that the government will expore whether to make a “temporary continuity direction” – an emergency power introduced through the coronavirus act – to “give additional clarity to schools, pupils and parents as to what remote education should be provided”.

DfE will engage with the sector before making a final decision in autumn.

Speaking in Parliament today, Williamson said he would ask Ofsted to examine what schools were doing in this area “because we will see situations in this country where you will have local lockdowns, and we need to ensure there is always continuity of education in those communities”.

The guidance on remote education states that schools should plan a programme that is the equivalent length to the core teaching pupils would receive in school – ideally including daily contact with teachers.

Schools are also expected to avoid an “over-reliance on long-term projects or internet research activities”.

On the curriculum for pupils in schools, the government states that schools will be expected to teach an “ambitious and broad curriculum in all subjects from the start of the autumn term”

However, they will also be expected to “make use of existing flexibilities to create time to cover the most important missed content”, while aiming to return to their normal curriculum in all subjects by summer 2021.

Ben Newmark, a teacher and blogger, urged schools to “make sure you understand the spirit of the document before trying to implement all the recommendations/suggestions in it”.

“This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the approach but schools should be really aware that should they limit activities or curriculum in the aim of achieving total safety then they shouldn’t expect this to meet with later governmental support,” he tweeted.

The guidance also provides specific advice for each key stage, and for activities where there may be “an additional risk of infection”

For example, in music, the government suggests physical distancing “and playing outside wherever possible, limiting group sizes to no more than 15, positioning pupils back-to-back or side-to-side, avoiding sharing of instruments, and ensuring good ventilation”.