Heated debate and unhelpful commentary aside, it is by pulling together that we will do best for our teachers and their pupils, writes Amanda Spielman
Wednesday’s “thank a teacher day” couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Since schools closed to most pupils in March, you – teachers, headteachers and support staff – have been doing a remarkable job in circumstances that were unthinkable just a few short months ago.
And I know you are doing it because you feel a deep sense of commitment and responsibility to the children in your care. You are mastering new approaches and technology to keep children motivated and learning. You are making sure those you are worried about remain in sight. And, of course, you are keeping school gates open for the children who really need to be there.
As I write, there is a vigorous debate under way about the merits of the government’s decision to allow more children back to school from June. Along with union leaders, I was invited to attend a discussion with the government’s chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser last week.
It was a very good briefing and much of what was said supports the strategy of gradually introducing more children back to school. But I know that many teachers and parents will still have genuine concerns about whether it’s safe to do so. Similarly, there are powerful arguments about the impact on children of not being in school. For the government and for schools, this is a difficult balancing act. The road ahead is not obvious to map out, or easy to follow, but I’m sure we can all agree that children are best off returning to school as soon as is feasible, in a way that protects their health and the health of school staff.
There will be a period of recovery, and Ofsted will play its part
In the heat of debate, it has been profoundly disappointing to see some commentators trying to polarise by portraying teachers in a negative light. It’s very clear to me that teachers want to teach and the current situation is as professionally frustrating as it is personally concerning.
There has also been criticism levelled at schools for their provision of home learning. Again, this is unhelpful. Many schools have made a tremendous effort from a standing start, and they are doing what they can in the absence of clear guidelines. When calls have been made for Ofsted to inspect home learning, I have been very clear that there are no standards to judge against and little clarity over what schools are required to do in these extraordinary circumstances.
And even though we can now see the path to reopening schools for all, we can also see that some children need to be educated remotely for some time to come. It will be helpful to schools and parents alike to have clear expectations as soon as possible about what all children should be getting, wherever they are spending their school days. That needs to be part of the government plan if not this term then certainly next, so that schools, parents and children know what is expected of them.
When schools do start to re-admit more pupils, there will be a period of recovery, and Ofsted will play its part. We’ve made it clear that we won’t be doing normal inspections this term, so we are thinking carefully about when we should re-start that work in the next academic year. When we do pick inspection back up, we will need to meet schools where they are, focus on building confidence in parents and supporting the process of recovery. To help us, we will be working with government, unions, professional representatives and parent groups to gather views.
I will end where I began, by saying thank you to teachers and all those working in our schools. You are providing leadership at a time of national crisis. And, as that crisis slowly abates, it will be schools once again in the forefront – helping a unique generation of young people regain the confidence, resilience and optimism that a great education provides.