Local lockdown guidance: Schools urged to set 'realistic expectations'

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools getting to grips with the last-minute government guidance on managing education during local lockdowns have been urged to focus on the “art of the possible” and to maintain “realistic expectations”.

School leaders were left frustrated when the Department for Education (DfE) published updates to its so-called CONTAIN guidance just days before the new term was due to begin.

The update – published late on Friday night (August 28) – introduced the concept of four tiers of response to local Covid-19 outbreaks (DfE, 2020a). It would have meant many schools having to quickly update and revise their planning.

While welcoming the guidance itself, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) was not happy about the timing. In a statement published hot on the heels of the guidance itself, at 9:23pm on Friday, Geoff Barton, the union’s general secretary, said: “To wait until the Friday night before most schools return isn’t the government’s finest moment.

“Obviously, schools haven’t had any chance whatsoever to incorporate this into their planning and will now have to revisit the plans they have put in place.”

The guidance introduces four tiers of response to local outbreaks with local authorities, local directors of public health, and national government being responsible for deciding when an area should change tiers. The tiers are:

  • Tier 1: Fully open to all pupils full-time, with face coverings required in corridors and communal areas for pupils in year 7 and above.
  • Tier 2: Secondary schools and colleges in a restricted area to use rotas to help break chains of transmission of coronavirus. Primary schools, alternative provision and special schools remain open to all pupils.
  • Tier 3: Secondary schools only allow full-time on-site provision to vulnerable children, the children of critical workers and selected year groups (to be identified by the DfE). Remote education provided to all other pupils. Primary schools, alternative provision and special schools remain open to all pupils.
  • Tier 4: All mainstream schools only allow full-time on-site provision to priority groups. Remote education provided to all other pupils. Alternative provision and special schools remain open to all pupils.

Speaking in an update to members on Tuesday (September 1), Mr Barton added: “We think that was a pretty terrible time to release that, maybe not for the reasons of the DfE’s own making.”

However, Mr Barton urged school leaders to set realistic expectations when updating their planning for the term ahead. He told members: “If you have spent the weekend with a sinking heart working through (the guidance), because you’re looking at, let’s say, the Tier 2 … I can see that, A, we have got to work on the logistics of that, B, the home learning, C, the free school meals expectations, D, we know there’s going to be Ofsted visits at some time, we also know that the Health and Safety Executive is going to phone up at some time – all of this can just become utterly overwhelming.

“What we’re saying really clearly is this will be about the art of the possible and parents I think will absolutely understand that. The advantage you’re going to have now … is that we will be seeing those young people, being able to set work for these young people if it were the case that we need to go into these rotas. My point is this: Let’s keep our expectations realistic.”

The DfE has said that it expects local areas to take “all other possible measures, including implementing restrictions on other sectors, before considering restricting attendance in education”.

It published further guidance on Friday (August 28) focused specifically on planning for potential Tier 2 restrictions, which will involve secondary year groups operating a rota system in order to reduce pupil numbers on-site (DfE, 2020b).

It states: “Schools should ideally operate a rota system that means pupils spend two weeks on-site followed by two weeks at home. This allows more than sufficient time for symptoms to present themselves and for pupils to self-isolate and avoid transmitting the virus to others.

“However, schools can choose to operate a one week rota if this is necessary for the effective delivery of the curriculum. This should still allow time for symptoms to present in the vast majority of cases.

“Rota lengths should not be any shorter than one week as this does not provide sufficient time off-site for symptoms to present. Schools should plan to utilise time over the weekend effectively in order to prepare for a different rota group at the start of the week.”

It reminds schools that “children of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people will be expected to be able to access full-time on-site provision at all tiers of restriction”.

The guidance adds that teachers and staff can operate across the different rota groups, as well as different social bubbles of students.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We hope that we won’t have to implement the guidance because the local lockdown measures we have introduced so far are working. Changes to school attendance will only ever be an absolute last resort. However, it is important that both government and schools prepare for a worst case scenario, so this framework represents the sensible contingency planning.”

Existing government guidance (DfE, 2020c) already requires schools to have contingency plans in place for remote learning in case of local lockdowns or for when pupils have to self-isolate.

Elsewhere, from this week, schools should also have begun receiving home testing kits – each school should receive a pack of 10 tests, with more available to be ordered if needed. These, the DfE says, are for use in exceptional circumstances when individuals cannot access a test elsewhere.

Schools should also receive packs of PPE this week to use in “very limited circumstances”, such as when it is not possible for a staff member to maintain distance from a pupil with a suspected case.


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