September Opening Of Schools and Colleges For All Children And Young People (COVID-19 Schools Update)
- Meeting of This meeting has been re-scheduled from 2 September 2020., Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday, 9th September, 2020 10.00 am (Item 32.)
Report of the Director of Education
This report provides an overview of the work that has taken place in Manchester to support the reopening of schools and colleges for all children and young people in response to the most recent Government Guidance which is also summarised in the report.
The Committee received a report of the Director of Education which provided an overview of the work that had taken place in Manchester to support the reopening of schools and colleges for all children and young people in response to the most recent Government guidance which was also summarised in the report. The report also noted that, through the learning and education system, children were informed about and understood environmental issues and the negative impact of carbon; promoting safe and healthy lives.
Officers referred to the main points and themes within the report, which included:
- Government guidance;
- Implementation in Manchester;
- Supporting pupils to attend school;
- School operations;
- Curriculum offer;
- Continuity planning;
- Mental health and wellbeing;
- Safeguarding; and
- School/college workforce.
Some of the key points and themes that arose from the Committee’s discussions were:
- To thank everyone involved for their work in re-opening schools to all pupils;
- How the position of schools would be reviewed if infection levels increased significantly and increased lockdown restrictions were required;
- The mental health impact of the pandemic on both pupils and staff;
- The additional funding that had been made available to schools;
- The use of bubbles in schools, noting that many households would have more than one child in different bubbles;
- Request that the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) documents being shared with schools also be circulated to Members of the Committee;
- Discussion about the wearing of face coverings by secondary school pupils when moving around school and whether these should also be worn in the classroom;
- Concerns about the potential for the transmission of the virus outside of school, for example, from parents congregating at the school gate and from secondary school pupils mixing on the way home; and
- The impact on children transitioning to the next stage of their education who had not had the normal support through the transition period.
The Executive Member for Children and Schools recognised the hard work involved in re-opening schools to all pupils and thanked all those involved. He expressed concern that new Government guidance had been issued shortly before the start of term, which had presented challenges for schools as they had already made plans.
The Director of Education drew Members’ attention to the Government guidance on schools, which included four tiers of restrictions for education settings. She reported that, despite local restrictions in Manchester, schools were currently operating at Tier 1, where schools were open to all pupils; however, if necessary, a decision could be taken to move to Tier 2, where secondary school pupils would attend school on a rota basis, Tier 3, where secondary schools would be closed to most pupils and, in the most serious circumstances, Tier 4, where primary schools would also be closed. She advised Members that, under all these circumstances, schools would still be open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, as they had been during the full lockdown earlier in the year. She informed Members that the Government guidance was to not require pupils to wear face coverings in the classroom on the basis that this impeded teaching and meant that pupils would be wearing them for long periods but that the rules on this were at the discretion of individual schools. The Consultant in Public Health advised the Committee that schools had reviewed their classroom layouts, for example, making sure that pupils were not facing each other at close proximity so this reduced the risk of transmission in classrooms in a way that was not always possible when groups of pupils were moving around school corridors. In response to a Member’s question, the Director of Education clarified that pupils with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) were not required to wear a face covering.
The Director of Education advised the Committee that a lot of work was taking place to support the mental health of pupils but agreed that support for teachers should also be considered and she suggested that this could be raised with schools through the Headteacher briefings and Chair of Governor briefings. She clarified that schools had been provided with additional funding from the Government, which they could use however they thought best to support pupils to catch up on missed learning, and that there was separate provision for subsidised tuition through the Education Endowment Fund, although schools had to pay the rest of the cost of this tuition.
The Consultant in Public Health advised the Committee that the purpose of bubbles was to enable the quick identification and isolation of close contacts of an infected person. She acknowledged that this was complicated because each pupil within a bubble would also have other close contacts, such as other family members, and she advised that, if that child subsequently tested positive, the rest of their household would also have to isolate.
The Director of Education advised that a few schools had experienced problems in the first week with parents gathering around school gates when dropping off and collecting their children and that the Council had offered support to the schools on managing this situation. She informed the Committee that no schools had contacted her service to report problems with this in the second week of term so it would appear that these issues had been resolved. She advised Members that a letter had been sent out to parents at the end of the last term about the importance of them working with schools to ensure that procedures were followed and that it would be worth sending another letter to remind them of this. She also stated that she would circulate the FAQs to schools to Members of the Committee.
The Director of Education reported that every school would receive a visit from a member of the Quality Assurance Team during the Autumn term to look at how schools were managing, including where they were up to in teaching the full curriculum, what their remote learning plan was and which children had the greatest gaps in their learning which they needed support to catch up on. She advised Members that this would include how children entering Year 7 were doing, considering that they would not have had gone through the normal transition process to prepare them for secondary school.
1. To have a standing item on future agendas on the response to COVID-19, including updates on schools, for as long as is necessary.
2. To note that the Director of Education will circulate the FAQs that have been sent to schools to Members of the Committee.