Manchester City Council

Agenda item

Agenda item

Update on Opening of Schools and Colleges For All Children and Young People

Report of the Director of Education

 

This report provides an update on the full reopening of schools for all pupils in September and the current challenges faced by schools. The report provides an overview of the work that has taken place in Manchester to support school leaders at this time.

Minutes:

The Committee received a report of the Director of Education which provided an update on the full reopening of schools for all pupils in September and the current challenges faced by schools. It provided an overview of the work that had taken place in Manchester to support school leaders at this time.  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.

 

Officersreferred to the main points and themes within the report, which included:

 

  • Attendance;
  • Infection control;
  • Workforce and wellbeing;
  • Newly Qualified teachers (NQTs);
  • Remote learning;
  • Post-16; and
  • Our Children (Looked After Children) and the Virtual School.

 

Some of the key points and themes that arose from the Committee’s discussions were:

 

  • To thank schools staff for all their work in re-opening schools to all pupils;
  • To recognise the support that the Council’s Education Service was providing to schools;
  • The additional challenges and pressures on school staff, including head teachers and senior leadership teams, and how their mental wellbeing could be supported;
  • That schools were taking different approaches to the ‘bubbles’ of pupils who were in contact with each other and what was being learnt about what was and was not working in terms of infection control;
  • Remote learning, including how this was being monitored and evaluated, and noting that some children did not have their own laptop and did not have access to a reliable internet connection;
  • The increase in families deciding to home educate their children and how much of this was due to fears over sending their children to school during a pandemic;
  • The availability of tests for COVID-19; and
  • The impact on pupils in Year 11 and Year 13 who were due to take examinations in the summer of 2021.

 

The Director of Education reported that more was being learnt about how to reduce infection risk and what worked well and that best practice was being shared regularly with all Manchester schools.  She advised the Committee that the Council’s Health and Safety Team was working with her service and schools to reduce the risk.  She reported that the more information schools held, for example, on children’s playtimes and where they had sat for lunch, the more schools could narrow down who had been in close contact with an infected pupil, therefore, reducing the number of pupils who needed to self-isolate.

 

The Director of Education informed Members about the new statutory duty for local authorities to monitor and evaluate remote learning and outlined how her service was doing this through visits to schools by independent Quality Assurance professionals.  She advised Members that a number of options were being looked at to help pupils who did not have access to wifi, such as dongles and providing paper copies of materials.

 

The Director of Education advised Members that, during lockdown, some families had found that having their children learning at home worked well for them but that some of the requests to home educate did stem from anxiety about sending children back to school.  She outlined the approaches being taken, stating that many parents were ringing the Council’s attendance helpline to talk through the situation and their options.  She advised Members that conversations were also taking place between the school and the family, ensuring that they understood the full implications of home education, such as losing their child’s school place, and looking for solutions, which in some cases, particularly in special schools, could include some remote learning.  The Executive Member for Children and Schools praised the work of the Council’s Attendance Team in advising parents who were anxious about sending their children back to school.

 

The Director of Education informed Members that all schools which were members of the Manchester Schools Alliance (MSA) could access an Employee Assistance Scheme, including counselling and other mental health support, for free and that the MSA and her service were looking at how to promote this more; however, she reported that a few schools were not members of the MSA and discussions were taking place about how to ensure these schools were providing appropriate support to staff.

 

The Director of Education informed the Committee that every school had been sent ten COVID-19 testing kits which they could use where there was difficulty in accessing tests through the normal channels and that these could be re-ordered through the Department for Education (DfE) as necessary.  She advised Members that she shared their concerns about the impact of the pandemic on Year 11 and Year 13 pupils, noting that in areas such as Manchester where infection rates were higher, pupils were more likely to have to spend part of the academic year isolating at home but would be compared and competing with other pupils nationally who had been less affected.  She commented that even good quality remote learning was not the same as being at school and that some children faced additional challenges, such as not having a quiet space at home where they could study.  She informed Members that she would be raising this with Ofqual and through other forums.

 

Decision

 

To agree that future updates will focus on school attendance data and any new developments or significant changes to the current situation.

 

[Councillor Alijah declared a personal interest as a deliverer of initial teacher training.]

Supporting documents: