Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s head inspector, has today called for a combined “top down and bottom up” approach to the reopening of schools. She asks school leaders in particular, to take an optimistic view and focus on what can be done, rather than what can’t.
Two metre rule
Like the hospitality industry, schools are grappling with the two metre social distancing rule. Of the few primary schools that managed to open more widely last week, most have found their functional teaching space drastically reduced, and they have had to manage teaching resources accordingly. In Wales, the plan is for all age groups to return to school on 29 June. However, students will only be able to attend for limited periods, and only a third of them will be in school at any one time.
When Spielman says that “there is a great deal that can be done”, she acknowledges that schools will be working with ‘bubbles’ of 15 pupils where the two metre rule is an aspiration rather than an absolute expectation.
That will be a relief to some of the teachers who have been working with the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils throughout the crisis. In response to questions from a Yorkshire head, one secondary teacher reported that once they leave the classroom, the majority of her students do not follow the socially distance measures at all.
Even when pupils do ‘get it’, teachers often find themselves at odds with the buildings themselves. When moving around in corridors, on stairs, in playgrounds and while washing hands it can be impossible to keep children apart, whether in their socially distant bubbles or not.
More frightened than need to be
According to Spielman, people are “perhaps more frightened than they actually need to be”. The majority of school-age children appear to be faring well against Covid-19. Data have shown that children are extremely unlikely to catch and then die from the virus – one in 5.3 million, according to Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge.
Spielman did not explain exactly what she meant by a “top down” approach to getting schools back on track, but there are a number of examples that spring to mind. A few weeks ago, Education secretary Gavin Williamson insisted that ministers have taken “the most precautionary approach” and in the same breath urged teachers to return to the classroom “for the good of their pupils”. Only yesterday the prime minister announced a “big summer of catch-up” for pupils who have missed out on lessons in the lockdown. Unfortunately for Spielman (and for schools), no one yet knows what will now be expected of teachers during their summer holiday.
The Ofsted chief seems to be taking the view, shared by teachers, unions and ministers, that school is the best place for our children and undoubtedly thinks they should reopen as soon as it is safe. Nevertheless, no matter how optimistic, or risk tolerant our school leaders are, they are still governed by the public health guidelines, and their duty of care extends to the whole school community – children and adults alike.
Hourglass Education is continuing to support its client schools and network of teachers throughout the current crisis. Don't hesitate to contact us to find out more.