Secondary school leaders identify key challenges ahead of June 15

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

The risks while travelling to and from school, managing pupil movement around the school, and ensuring social distancing are key challenges according to secondary schools preparing for June 15.

The government went ahead this week with its further re-opening of schools, with the majority of primary schools opening their doors on Monday (June 1) to pupils from Reception, year 1 and year 6.

Secondary schools are being asked to provide some “face-to-face” time for year 10 and 12 students from Monday, June 15. While there is flexibility as to how this can be delivered, including via online options, many schools are planning to bring students in.

A study involving 1,233 primary and secondary school leaders published this week has revealed their main concerns about re-opening to more students.

Top of the list of concerns were managing pupil transport (69 per cent), managing pupil movement around school (66 per cent) and organising school space to enable social distancing (65 per cent).

However, most of the leaders said they felt at least somewhat prepared for staffing the school site (72 per cent), staffing lessons (67 per cent) and maintaining hygiene (66 per cent).

The study, which was published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on Monday (June 1), also found that 63 per cent of the respondents were worried about their preparedness for managing a combination of face-to-face and online lessons if not all pupils are in school at once.

The report states: “More secondary leaders say they are unprepared for managing the movement of pupils to and from school, including managing school transport and advising parents on their movements.

“This is consistent with the government’s recent guidance regarding the wider opening of secondary schools, and which acknowledges that secondary pupils are more likely than primary pupils to use public transport and tend to travel further to get to school.”

READ ALSO: June 15 will see more students returning to secondary schools. Headteacher Phil Denton is preparing to welcome his year 10s back. He discusses his reflections, practical considerations and the preparations that his team is putting in place:

Secondary schools in the survey said that they would be making use of rotas, with different year groups or classes attending on different days (73 per cent), while the use of staggered lunch and break times is also on the cards (68 per cent). Fewer secondary schools felt it feasible to stagger the start and end of the school day (60 per cent), with transport and timetable restrictions making this challenging.

The study added: “Most senior leaders say that enabling staff to self-isolate (97 per cent), frequent cleaning (96 per cent) and regular handwashing/sanitising (94 per cent) are very necessary/essential for safety when opening their schools more fully. Over half (56 per cent) consider it very necessary/essential to have access to PPE.”

Overall, secondary leaders are more positive than their primary colleagues about opening their schools more fully, with 37 per cent saying this is “very/entirely feasible” (compared to 18 per cent of primary colleagues).

However, they predict that around four in 10 parents will keep their children at home on June 15.

When it came to staffing levels, the schools in the survey said that in May they had seen an available staffing capacity of about 75 per cent of full-time colleagues, although about a third of these are working from home.

The NFER report comes after the Department for Education published specific re-opening guidance on May 25 for secondary schools (DfE, 2020). The guidance caused some confusion due to its stipulation that only 25 per cent of the year 10 and 12 cohorts should attend at any one time.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has been seeking clarity on this point from the DfE. In his video update to members on Tuesday (June 2), he said: “We have been told by the DfE that it is 25 per cent of year 10 and 25 per cent of year 12 as a maximum that should come back. We just need that in writing to reassure you. I know lots of you have done all types of planning and are feeling frustrated at not having greater clarity.”

Indeed, one headteacher of a large 11 to 18 school in Yorkshire told SecEd last week after seeing the guidance: “Two weeks of planning in tatters thanks to the most basic of facts missing from the original guidance, like 25 per cent which renders our timetable and staffing plans totally unworkable. Loads more unanswered questions have been raised now.”

Across the Pennines in Wigan, Dr Ian Butterfield, headteacher at Hindley High School said he had the space and facilities to be able to employ split-day rotas and have more than 25 per cent on site, but now had to revise plans.

He told SecEd: “We had planned to invite year 10 in for two half-days teaching – half in the morning, half in the afternoon. As they were only in half day we could repeat sessions in the afternoon, maximising staff deployment and minimising staff movement. It also took out the whole problem of eating on site.

“Saying not to split sessions caused a lot of logistical problems for timetable staffing. I would think whoever said no split days has no appreciation of scheduling.”

He added: “The 25 per cent rule and no session splitting is a micromanagement approach which does not take into account what a particular setting is able to offer. We may now not be able to deliver provision as much as we wanted to.”

Commenting on the NFER’s findings, its CEO Carole Willis said: “Government guidance needs to be tailored and responsive, allowing flexibility for school leaders to use their professional judgement. This will be necessary to manage the differing and changeable levels of staffing, parental choices and practical accommodation issues that each school is likely to experience.

“The findings also reinforce concerns about children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Schools with a high proportion of free school meal children were the most affected before lockdown and expect fewer children to return, adding to concerns about their loss of learning. There needs to be very clear messages and reassurance for parents, as well as a continued focus on the quality of remote learning.”

Elsewhere, other schools told SecEd that the DfE guidance has not really changed their plans. Al Kingsley, chair of the Hampton Academies Trust in Peterborough, said they were still planning a mixture of predominantly online provision but with physical one-to-one tutoring sessions and small group sessions too.

He said: “We are working hard on one-to-one remote dialogue with students, but all options are on the table. With 240 year 10s, the practicality of one-to-one sessions is far harder than the government might suggest.

“The biggest concerns for schools is not on site, but ability to manage safety of students on the way to and from school where there are real concerns about maintaining social distancing.”

Phil Denton, headteacher at St Bede’s Catholic High School in Lancashire, writes in SecEd this week about how his school is preparing for June 15.

He said: “We had reasoned that we could not have all of year 10 in. We will only be bringing in one form group per day in the first two weeks. Then, all being well, we'll increase this to two. That is very dependent though on the first two weeks.

“We will have subject-based online and telephone communications. This will take place in the second week back after half-term and then the last fortnight. This will aid subject-specific support. General study and organisational support will be given when the students are in school.”

The Kings School in Gloucester is also planning a small group approach while continuing remote learning provision too. The school will also be offering one-to-one chats via Microsoft Teams between teachers and pupils.

Alex Smith, deputy headteacher, said: “We are currently exploring prioritising subjects with the greatest need to be in school for delivering their curriculum.”


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