Time for Jacob’s Law

The naming of a young person in Serious Case Review Report is rare. But this week the Report into the death of Jacob in Oxfordshire contained his name. The family gave permission, and hope it will ensure the report is more widely read and acted upon. If so, it is a brave decision, and one that I applaud.

You can read the Report at https://www.oscb.org.uk/oscb-publishes-a-child-safeguarding-practice-review-concerning-jacob/ Full report link at bottom of the press notice

Three agencies, the Police, Children’s Social Services and Education have learning points to take from the Review. In this blog, I will concentrate on the education aspects, as they contain a message heard before on this blog.

Jacob was born in Oxfordshire, later move to Northumbria, where I suspect he was educated in a First School and then a Middle School before being moved in Year 6 to an ‘alternative education provision’ – presumably a PRU?

In July 2017, note the date, the family returned to Oxfordshire. The Report concludes that:

5.1 He was not on roll at any education provision and was a child missing education for 22 months

Jacob’s mandatory need for education was not provided by Oxfordshire County Council when he lived at home and when he was in the care of the local authority both in and when out of county for 5 months. Four educational settings were asked to take Jacob on roll, however largely due to his perceived behaviours and risks to other students he remained off roll for almost 2 years. Jacob’s family were offered the right of appeal when places were refused. His situation was considered by education panels such as the In Year Fair Access Panel and Children Missing Education to little effect and his needs were overseen and monitored by various professionals, including the Virtual School and the Independent Reviewing Officer Service whilst in local authority care. There were no formal dispute resolutions raised14 by Children’s Social Care and his situation was not escalated to the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) as it should have been.

Had this been an isolated case then this would be understandable, but a month before Jacob arrived back in Oxfordshire I had had an exchange in public with the Cabinet Member for Education at the June 2017 Cabinet meeting of the County Council. Not all questions are for political gain, and this was one where I genuinely thought that there was an issue to be addressed. The question asked:

Oxfordshire county council CABINET – 20 JUNE 2017 ITEM 4 – QUESTIONS FROM COUNTY COUNCILLORS

Question from Councillor Howson to Councillors Harrod and Hibbert-Biles “How many children taken into care over the past three school years and placed ‘out county’ have had to wait for more than two weeks to be taken onto the roll of a school in the area where they have been moved to and what is the longest period of time a child has waited for a place at a school in the area where they have been re-located to during this period?” 

As you will see, I asked both the Education Cabinet Member and Cllr Harrod for Children’s Social Services and received this answer:

Answer Over the past three years it has been exceptional for a Looked After Child to be taken onto the roll of an out of county school in under two weeks. Indeed, of the nine cases of primary age pupils we’ve looked at, the quickest a pupil was placed was 12 days (there were two) and the slowest was 77 days. For the 22 secondary age pupils the picture is even worse, with 3 weeks the quickest placement and a couple taking fully 6 months to get some of our most vulnerable young people into a stable school setting.

The main reason for this completely unacceptable state of affairs is that the Council has no power to direct an academy to admit a Looked After Child. The only way we can force an academy’s hand is to get a direction from the Educations & Skills Funding Agency and this, as you can see from the foregoing times, can be a very long winded bureaucratic process.

The fact that it takes so long for academies to admit our Looked After Children shows how doggedly our officers pursue the matter; I suspect that many other local authorities simply give up when they meet an intransigent academy that doesn’t want to take responsibility for educating their vulnerable young people.

The minutes of the meeting note my supplementary question and the response as:

Supplementary: In response to an invitation from Councillor Howson for the Cabinet Member to work with Councillor Howson and the labour opposition to see what could be done Councillor Hibbert-Biles recognised that it was a national situation, and she would be asking for a meeting with local MPs and relevant minister.

How distressing to read the national recommendation in the Serious Case Review that:

Recommendation 2: This Review asks the Department for Education to acknowledge the education key learning and findings from Jacob’s Review and provide feedback as to the effectiveness of the Education and Skills Funding Agency process in resolving issues in a timely manner. The Review asks the Department of Education to provide statute and guidance to local areas and their communities on how to manage the Governance arrangements with academy run schools and local education departments who currently cannot be mandated to accept children on roll.

And in the local recommendations that:

Action Plan 2: The Education System

The key learning set out below is fully addressed in this action plan for children in the education system in Oxfordshire, overseen by the Chair of the OSCB Safeguarding in Education Sub-Group Key Learning:

An education system that ensures:

1. The paramount importance of the role of schools in keeping children safe

2. An education package is put in place in a timely manner for those children who may show challenging behaviours

3. Those children missing education are known and action is swift

This Action Plan should pay particular attention to ensuring: – Restorative work to resolve the fragmented arrangements between academy schools, alternative provisions and the local authority to ensure collective ownership – Policy and procedures to track when children are not on roll – The function of Education Panels in Oxfordshire (In Year Fair Access and Children Missing Education) – The local application of the Education Skills Funding Agency intervention – Education packages for children who may be at risk of exploitation and also present a risk to others.

For those that read the whole Report, there is further evidence on page 31 and footnote 56 of other issues about school admissions around the same time.

Here’s what I wrote on this blog on the 23rd June 2017:

In my post on 11th June, after the outcome of the general election was known, I suggested some issues that could still be addressed by a government without an overall majority. First among these was the issue of school places for young people taken into care and placed outside of the local authority. They have no guarantee of access to a new school within any given time frame at present. It seemed to me daft that a parent could be fined for taking a child out of school for two weeks to go on holiday but a local authority could wait six months for a school place to be provided for a young person taken into care.

The Cabinet Question reproduced above then appears followed by:

I found the answer deeply depressing. However, the good news is that MPs from the three political parties representing Oxfordshire constituencies have agreed to work together to take the matter forward. Thank you to MPs, Victoria Prentice, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, for agreeing to seek action to remedy this state of affairs.

If readers have data about the issue elsewhere in England, I would be delighted to hear from you, so pressure can be put on officials nationally to ensure a rapid change in the rules.

I had forgotten that unique letter signed by every Oxfordshire MP after I had made my suggestion.

Nothing happened. Jacob died. We cannot wait any longer.

The DfE must act now to ensure all children have a school place within a specified time frame, whether they move to a new area or are excluded by a school. There must be a register of unplaced children of school age that is regularly reviewed by a senior officer and a politician, and Ofsted should update the Secretary of State each year about the national picture.

It is time for a Jacob’s Law. His death will not then have been for nothing.

Will you find a teaching post in 2021?

How easy will trainees find job hunting in 2021? The following predictions are based upon an analysis of vacancies for teaching posts recorded by TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk over the past four years. The raw vacancy data is then linked to the ITT census of trainee numbers produced by the DfE and based upon returns from providers.

As noted in another post on this blog, there are fewer trainees on classroom-based courses than a few years ago. This pushes up demand for trainees and returners to fill posts these trainees would have occupied. Assuming similar completion rates for trainees as in the past, and that with rising rolls in the secondary sector, if total vacancies are no worse than in 2020, and hopefully closer to the 2019 total it is possible to estimate the shape of the labour market in different subjects during 2021. However, much will depend upon how many teachers retire or leave the classroom for other jobs. If teacher stay put in larger numbers than usual, vacancies will be lower than in the past.

So, before I list some my predictions it is worth reminding those looking for teaching posts to register with the platform that provides the best opportunity for them to be pointed towards possible vacancies. I am, of course biased in favour of TeachVac, but there is the DfE site that also contains non-teaching posts, and the TES, as well as local authority job boards. Candidates might want to register with agencies and let them take the strain, but it is worth asking about their success in the geographical area where you are likely to be looking for a job.

So what might the picture for 2021 look like? Physics, design and technology and business studies teachers should still have little problem find a teaching post either during 2021 or for January 2022.

On the other hand, history and PE teachers will continue to find that there are more candidates than there are vacancies across much of England. The ability to offer a second subject might be worth thinking about in any application.  Teachers of geography will also likely to find job hunting challenging later in the year.

This year, teachers of art may struggle to find teaching posts, especially as the year progresses, as there are considerably more trainees than in recent years. Teachers of RE and biology may also face similar challenges in job hunting as 2021 progresses towards the start of the new school term in September.

The outlook for teachers of sciences, other than physics, is likely to be similar to the situation in 2020, with teachers of biology unable to offer other sciences at most risk of finding a teaching post challenging as the progresses.

Mathematics and IT/Computing teachers should find plenty of choice of jobs early in the year, but possibly not as much choice as in recent years.

It is difficult to predict the market for teachers of languages other than English in Britain’s new post-EU membership world. At present, it looks as if across England there is a good balance between supply and demand, but there may be regional shortages if vacancy levels increase. On the other hand, if vacancies decline, there could be a surplus of teachers of some languages, notably Spanish.

Teachers of music are likely to find enough vacancies for trainees unless there is an inflow of ‘returners’ from outside of the profession as a result of changes in the wider labour market for those with music qualifications and a teaching background.

Each month TeachVac updates information about overall vacancies in the monthly newsletter. Details can be found at: https://www.teachvac.co.uk/our_services.php

DfE to review ‘Children’s Social Care’

Last week the Secretary of State for Education announced a  ‘wholesale independent review of children’s social care will set out to radically reform the system, improving the lives of England’s most vulnerable children so they experience the benefits of a stable, loving home.’ https://www.gov.uk/government/news/education-secretary-launches-review-of-childrens-social-care

According to the DfE, ‘the review will reshape how children interact with the care system, looking at the process from referral through to becoming looked after. It will address major challenges such as the increase in numbers of looked after children, the inconsistencies in children’s social care practice, outcomes across the country, and the failure of the system to provide enough stable homes for children.’

These terms of reference remind me somewhat of the Carter Review into ITT, similarly led by a chair with links to the DfE. This review comes after a period where successive Ministers have not seemed much interested in this part of the work of the DfE.

I hope the review will tackle the issue of the relationship between social work and education. Should the social work part of the system be re-integrated with adult social work in local authorities as a family service; removed from a joint service with education to create a distinct service reporting to a cabinet member in each local authority and with a statutory head of service or remain as it is?

The present system of a hybrid department worked when schooling was travelling towards a national service under Labour and Michael Gove’s academy programme. Now it sits less well with a director often taking strategic decisions about an area of operation where they sometimes don’t know the right questions to ask.

Education departments should retain responsibility for the Virtual School and also need strengthened powers over in-year admissions for children taken into care required to move school. This blog has made that point several times.

I favour a new service for children operating under a cabinet member in each local authority and supported by a corporate parenting committee or scrutiny panel. Each local authority should have a Children in Care Council run by young people that regularly surveys the views of the young people themselves.

I recall being powerfully moved after reading a poem written by a child in care about coming home and finding all her possessions in a couple of bin bags waiting in the hall for the social worker to arrive to take her to a new foster placement. No wonder these children are often troubled and not easy to teach at school.

Every ITT course should be addressed by both a child in care and an adopted child so that trainee teachers can confront the reality that they may never have experienced in their own lives.

Finally, I hope that the review is not long and drawn out, but reports quickly and that there will be the funds to back up its recommendations. These young people should no longer be left on the margins of society.

Sluggish start for teaching vacancies in 2021

January 2020 was a bumper month for teacher vacancies. Trainees, returning teachers and those looking for promotion were spoilt for choice across most of England, as secondary schools started recruiting early for September 2020. Fast forward a year, and with different priorities on the minds of school leadership teams, the slump in vacancies that started when the pandemic struck last spring has continued into the first part of January 2021.

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the vacancy site for teachers, where I am Chair, has recorded a 50% reduction in vacancies during the first 15 days of January 2021 compared with the same period in January 2020. In some secondary subjects, such as English and history, the slump has been even larger in percentage terms; vacancies are more than 60% down on last year.

Over England as a whole, there 1,300 fewer vacancies recorded by TeachVac during the first 15 days of January this year than during the same period last year. Looking back beyond the record rate of 2020, the January 2021 number is also below the number of vacancies recorded by TeachVac in both January 2018 and 2019.

Will these jobs return? The answer is that some will, but some won’t. The suggestion in the press that London has lost 700,000 of its population over the past twelve months, as foreign workers have returned home,  may help to explain why vacancies in the capital for teachers have been especially hard hit over the past twelve months. At present, the Midlands, both East and West, are also regions where there has been an appreciable fall-off in vacancies compared with last year.

In a recession, public sector workers with a secure job tend to stay put, so fewer teachers leaving either to take the chance on a new career or to teach overseas. This lack of movement has the effect of reducing demand for replacements. School budgets are under pressure as a result of the pandemic, so that is another factor that will delay recruitment activities, although TeachVac and the DfE site don’t cost schools cash. The DfE site does cost time and effort not required of schools by TeachVac.

As has been said in the past, there is no point in spending cash on recruitment until you have tried the free option and it hasn’t worked. TeachVac has matched 120,000 vacancies over the past two years and even if half resulted in an appointment that could have saved school millions of pounds in recruitment advertising.

TeachVac is currently preparing its reviews of 2020, and that on the Leadership Labour Market should be published next week: watch this blog for details. The wider review of classroom vacancies will appear later in the month. Both would have been faster had the government’s KickStart Scheme worked. On the Isle of Wight we still haven’t been offered any candidates through the Scheme, despite signing up almost on day one of the scheme’s announcement.

In summary, this may well be another year where the labour market favour employers over job-seekers, so registering with job sites such as TeachVac sooner rather than later may make sense for those seeking a teaching or school leadership post.

Supply Teachers left out in the cold

Last May, on this blog, I suggested that NQTs without a job could be hired as supernumerary staff to help schools with pupils that had fallen behind in their education during the first lockdown. Now we are into a new period of lockdown where schools are struggling to operate two parallel learning systems; one for pupils in schools – and there are many more of those – and the other for those still remote learning. As a result, if we really want to ensure high quality schooling for all, there seems to be good reason to boost the staffing of schools, lest the overload on the existing staff of trying to manage two distinct learning regimes at one time causes the system to collapse.

Intelligence is reaching me that although teachers on long-term supply contracts could be furloughed, they are often not being offered that option, possibly because employers are now required to pay National Insurance and Employer Pension Contributions. So, the risk is that instead of a win-win situation, we have the opposite where both teachers and schools lose out, and pupils’ education also suffers: all for the want of a small amount of cash.

Where a supply teacher is replacing a member of staff, then that contract should be honoured. During the autumn term supply teachers in parts of the country were reporting even less work than normal. When schools are fully staffed for September, the first part of the autumn term can be a lean time for supply work. However, I was told of one local authority where demand was higher than normal, as high attendance rates meant staff self-isolating needed to be replaced.

This term, has been shambolic, but the basic point needs to be reiterated, if schools need to run two systems to teach all pupils, either physically or remotely, then the funding arrangements need to make this possible. There is only so much goodwill that can be drawn upon. Supply teachers offer a pool of teachers that can help, but they must be funded.

There is also the more general issue of pay for supply teachers. This has never been good, especially where agencies need to make a profit on what they can charge schools. The teacher is the loser in this market, especially where there are several companies competing to cut prices to schools to secure work.

Indeed, supply teaching is a very cyclical business, and one with high fixed overheads for those companies operating on a traditional model. When schools are fully staffed, as they will be for the next few years, it is even more difficult to make money, and I expect to see some consolidation across the industry, and less work for teachers, especially in the primary sector where rolls are also falling.

I have long wondered why teachers don’t form cooperatives and take over the market themselves. They could also offer tutoring, where hourly rates are often higher than for classroom teaching, despite being one to one and not having to handle a whole class of pupils. A good cooperative could also offer coaching, mentoring, professional development and even adult learning, but it requires someone with an interest in running a business to set it up.

But, if you leave it to others, then what you get is what they are prepared to give you.

Leadership trends in schools- 2020

TeachVac www.teachvac.co.uk the free to use teacher vacancy site is putting together its annual reviews of the labour market for teachers in England. The first of these is on leadership turnover in schools.

Here are some of the headlines from the draft report.

  • More leadership vacancies were recorded in the primary sector during 2020, while vacancies recorded in the secondary sector during 2020 remained at a similar level to 2019.
  • In the primary sector some 1,497 head teacher vacancies were recorded. The number for the secondary sector was 387 vacancies during 2020.
  • For schools advertising during the 2019-20 school year, there was a re-advertisement rate for primary schools of 28%: for secondary school headteacher vacancies, the re-advertisement rate was lower at 23%.
  • Schools in certain regions and with other characteristics that differentiates the school from the commonplace are more likely to experience issues with headteacher recruitment.
  • There were a similar number of vacancies for deputy heads in the secondary sector during 2020 than 2019. Fewer vacancies were recorded for the primary sector.
  • Secondary schools advertised slightly more assistant head teacher vacancies during 2020 than during 2019. There were fewer vacancies recorded in the primary sector during 2020 than in 2019. 
  • Tracking leadership vacancies has become more challenging as the means of recruitment have become more diversified in nature.
  • The covid-19 pandemic had a significant effect on the senior staff labour market from April 2020 until the end of the year.

What might be the outcome of the new lockdown? As the majority of vacancies at all levels in education are for September starts in a new job the later the more senior vacancies are advertised the more pressure on vacancies for other posts. Normally, half the annual volume of headteacher adverts appear in the first three months of the year. Will that pattern be replicated this year? Perhaps it is too early to tell. Will headteachers, and especially headteachers in primary schools faced with more problems than normal and lacking the level of administrative support that their secondary school colleagues enjoy just decide enough is enough and take early retirement? Will the pay freeze make matters worse, especially if pensions still rise in line with RPI?

TeachVac will be watching these trends for senior staff turnover, along with others in the labour market. Often in the past, a rising level of house prices has been bad for senior staff recruitment in high cost housing areas as staff can move to lower cost areas, but it is challenging for staff to move into those areas without incentives. The Stamp Duty relaxation has pushed up housing prices, at least in the short-term. Will these increases have an impact on leadership turnover?

The current age profile of the teaching profession should be favourable to the appointment of senior leaders but, as this blog has pointed out in the past, there may not be enough deputy heads in the primary sector with sufficient experience to want to move onto headship at the present time.

All these trends will need monitoring carefully as 2021 unfolds.

If you want the full report or data for specific areas, please contact enquiries@oxteachserv.com

My guest blog for Oriel Square Publishing

By John Howson, chair of TeachVac and County Councillor in Oxfordshire. *This blog was written before the DfE’s announcement on 2nd January 2021 of a new Institute of Teaching.

2020 didn’t prove to be a happy 150th anniversary for state education in England. Hopefully, we will be able to look back on 2021 with better memories. One clear outcome from 2020 was the need to review methods of teaching and learning as pupils were forced to interact with their teachers remotely.

Teacher preparation

The oversight of the school system might have been better managed had there been a strong middle-tier between schools and policymakers.

For many years, too much of the preparation and professional development of teachers has been focused on looking backwards at the past rather than at understanding the possibilities offered by a very different future. The Covid-19 pandemic changed that approach overnight. Parents discovered the reality of teaching and school leaders had to invent new patterns of dialogue between their staff and pupils; often with little help from the government.

Indeed, the planning and oversight of the school system, fractured as it is between local authorities, stand-alone academies and Multi Academy Trusts, might have been better managed had there been a strong middle-tier in operation between schools and policymakers at Westminster.

The role of schools in teaching training

In the course of the past fifty years, the labour market for teachers has oscillated between periods of shortage and times of oversupply.

For many years, I have been an observer of the workings of the labour market for teachers. In the course of the past 50 years that I have been involved with schools in England, the labour market for teachers has oscillated between periods of shortage – occasionally of severe shortages of teachers – and other times where there has been an oversupply.

Under the coalition government, and especially under the stewardship of Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education, schools were encouraged to be at the forefront of teacher supply. Traditional higher education routes of teacher preparation were out of favour, and narrowly missed disappearing altogether when faced with recruitment controls.

At its zenith, the ambitious School Direct salaried route into teaching accounted for 12% of postgraduate entrants into teacher training.

The ambitious School Direct salaried route into teaching reached its zenith in 2016/17 when such trainees accounted for 12% of postgraduate entrants into teacher training. By the government’s 202/21 training year census the same route only accounted for five per cent of trainees, despite a larger number of trainee places being available. …

To read the rest of the blog go to https://www.orielsquare.co.uk/blog/index.php/2021/01/05/teacher-training-putting-the-past-behind-us/

London graduates flock to teaching

Data released today by UCAS for applications by December 2020 to graduate teacher preparation courses revealed a big jump on the numbers over the figures from the same time in the previous year. In the London region, the number of applicants domiciled in London increased from 1,580 in December 2019, to 2,550 in December 2020. The number of applicants in London this year exceeded the combined total of applicants in the North East and Yorkshire and The Humber regions wanting to become a teacher.

Although there were increases in applications across all age categories, only 400 more undergraduates have applied, compared with 900 more in the 25-29 age group. More than 500 extra applicants in the 40+ age group had applied by December 2020, compared with the number that had applied in December 2019.

Although there were more applicants for primary courses, bringing the number to the highest December level since 2016/17, there was an even larger increase in applications for secondary courses. These increased from 15,950 in December 2019 to 22,730 on the same date in December 2020. Overall, applications increased from 29,330 in December 2019 to 41,520 in December 2020.

As a result of the increase in applicants, many secondary subjects registered totals for ‘Place, Conditionally Placed or Holding Offers’ in December 2020 that were double levels seen in December 2019. Only in geography and English, among the larger subject areas were the increases significantly more subdued. In business studies, a traditionally difficult to recruit to subject, offers increased from a paltry 10 in December 2019 to more than 100 in December 2020. This may be the first year for some years that this subject recruits sufficient trainees to meet government expectations.

Even in physics, offers increased, from 40 in December 2019 to 140 in December 2020.   For some reason UCAS did not report on the gender breakdown of applicants this month, normally found in Tables A7-9 of their report. As UCAS do not report on the ethnic background of applicants, there is no further overall breakdown about the characteristics of applicants, other than their age and geographical domicile.

These numbers must be good news for teaching, although whether this number of accepted applicants in history, physical education and art and design will find teaching posts in 2022 will depend upon how many more applicants are offered places during the coming few months. I am sure that HM Treasury won’t want to spend more on tuition fees than is necessary.

All routes have seen an increase in applications, although Apprenticeships are still limited in the secondary sector to a small increase, and there were actually 300 fewer applications to School Direct Salaried courses in the primary sector in December compared with December 2019, possibly marking yet another nail in the coffin for this route?

With the new shock to the economy generated by the third national lockdown, it seems logical to assume that teacher preparation courses will experience their best year for almost a decade, and that the teacher supply crisis of recent years will now be coming to an end.

This blog was the first to call the start of the crisis and received much criticism from those in high places for doing so. It is fitting to be able to mark the start of a period of adequate teacher supply, at least in terms of numbers.

Worth a second look

Some posts on this blog deserve a second look. With nearly 1,100 posts now on the site, I don’t have a complete list, so even I am surprised when a visitor digs up a post from over seven years ago that resonates as much today as it did when originally posted.

Many of those that visit the blog today weren’t even in education, at least on the teaching side of the desk or camera, in 2013, so when it reappeared as the result of someone’s trawl through the archives, I thought I would ensure it was worth a second look to a new group of readers.

Winds of change in Manchester

Posted on 

The last two days I have been in Manchester for the SSAT Annual Conference. This is a celebration of many of the good things in school leadership. The delegates here are anything but average in their approach to education. The conference started with Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves talking about their new book: Professional Capital. In this increasingly secular age, where many head teachers are probably agnostics, it was interesting to hear Andy Hargreaves take the example of the parable of the master that leaves his servants a sum of money to use wisely in his absence and finds that two have invested while the third had just kept the money safe by burying the cash in the ground. The message of invest for progress was an interesting one.

At the same conference I participated in a panel debate about preparing teachers, and led a workshop on professional development. The following ten phrases are the ones that provided me with a framework for discussion in the workshop.

Hire exceptional people: add value.

Seek heroines and heroes: not villains and scapegoats.

Dump portmanteau careers: welcome career changers

Look for leaders of every age.

Education is a business not a market.

Sell the brand

Engage the family

Cash balances don’t educate children.

Quality assurance before quality control.

know the facts: tell the truth.

I had a good example of the last one of these while I was composing this post. I received an email that a Minister had confirmed the over allocation of ITT places was 9% this year. The fact is true, but disguises the more important information that the over allocation was in the order of 18% for secondary places, but only 6% in the primary sector.

Many of the other statements can generate discussion and some have already been aired in posts on this site. Hopefully, the remained will feature at some time in the future.

More Dunkirk than D-Day

Last March it was probably acceptable that schools had to invent their immediate responses to lockdown. After all, we were all facing situations we hadn’t expected. Much like the sudden collapse of the Allied armies in France in 1940, when faced with the Panzer Divisions assault, we muddled through and achieved more than might have been expected.

As I wrote on the 29th February in a blog post. ‘We are better equipped to deal with unforeseen events these days, whether fire, floods or pestilence; but only if we plan for them.’ I also pointed out that ‘In 1939 the country managed a mass evacuation of children from our cities under a Conservative Government.’ And I asked, ‘Does the civil service have the mentality to handle arrangements on such a scale today? After decades of a philosophy of private choice rather than public good, it may need a rethink, and quickly.’

In April, I mused that ‘Strategic thinking is still in short supply. There are group of Year 13 students, now to be assessed on their work before the outbreak that could form a useful coordinated volunteer force organised by their Sixth Form Tutor and reporting to the local hubs.

Apart from the obvious use of their talents to produce PPE on the schools’ 3D printers; sowing machines and other D&T resources they could be reducing the traffic jam of delivery vehicles clogging up suburban streets by trialling last mile cycle delivery from trans-shipment points to see how this would work. If petrol pumps are a transfer risk for the virus, we could use some as pump attendants, at least for vulnerable customers so that they could avoid touching the pumps and know that only the person serving them had handled the filling mechanism.’

Fast forward to January and we have the same level of chaos and muddle that professionals in education were faced with in March. The only change seems to be that the DfE guidance is clearer than it was in the spring.

Why did the government not use the time between March and December to plan for another lockdown. To move from the ‘make it up as you go along’ evacuation of Dunkirk to the meticulously planned D-Day assault on the Normandy beaches, backed by the deception exercise around Operation Fortitude.

Take provision of laptops and tablets. This system hasn’t worked. But nobody seems to have thought of all the reconditioned tablets sitting in small shops around the country. Even if they only lasted for a year, they might see some schools through the pandemic. Yes, I would like top of the line new equipment for those that haven’t access to any IT, but something now to start with is better than nothing until some uncertain date in the future.

Remote learning has been mostly un-coordinated and largely left to schools. This is an area where schools should have pooled knowledge and effort. It is as if no Minister has ever read Adam Smith and understood the principles of mass production over cottage-based industries. Expecting each school to reinvent the wheel is silly.

To continue the military analogy, it is as if infantry destined for the D-Day beaches were told, design your own training, and just get off the beach. The lack of a coherent middle tier that could pull MATs, diocese and local authority schools together to provide effective remote learning has frustrated both parents and young people with an outcome that hasn’t been as good as it could have been, and through no fault of teachers and school leaders.

Re-reading the ONS Report of May about risk to teachers from Covid, it was obvious, as I pointed out at the time in my blog that staff in schools, and especially in secondary schools, were classified as

‘… a group with a high possible exposure to any disease, presumably as they work close to large groups of children. In that respect, secondary school teachers interacting with many different pupils in the course of a day might been thought to have a higher potential risk factor than primary school teachers who are largely interacting with a smaller group of children each day. Of course, this is too simplistic, as it ignores the many other settings in schools from playgrounds, assemblies and meal times where all teachers can interact with large numbers of children. Primary teachers, and especially school leaders may have the added factor of interaction with parents that bring children to school and cluster at the school gate at the end of the day.’


This risk should have been monitored through the autumn and especially since the new variant was detected, as it was a vital piece of information in the analysis of whether schools could continue to open on site or switch to remote learning. That it has taken FOI requests and other tactics for the professional associations to secure the data is not acceptable.

The lack of either strategic planning or operational excellence in terms of the school system is a disappointment, and will no doubt eventually have political repercussions. After all, schools impact widely on all families.

update 1230 6th January. According to The Guardian the government has designated all pupils without laptops as vulnerable pupils and thus able to access schools. Well, that’s one way of solving the problem.