Update on Schools and Settings and their Response to COVID-19
- Meeting of Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday, 10th February, 2021 10.00 am (Item 7.)
Report of the Director of Education
This report provides a further update on the impact of COVID on schools and settings in the City. The report also provides some information collected during the Autumn term on what children and young people were telling us about the impact of COVID. The report outlines the support that continues to be provided to our schools and settings and also to our families through use of the winter COVID grant.
The Committee received a report of the Director of Education which provided a further update on the impact of COVID-19 on schools and settings in the city. The report also provided some information collected during the autumn term from children and young people about the impact of COVID-19. The report outlined the support that continued to be provided to schools and settings and also to families through the use of the winter COVID grant. The report stated that through the learning and education system children were informed and understood environmental issues and the negative impact of carbon; promoting safe and healthy lives.
The main points and themes within the report included:
- Numbers of positive cases of COVID-19;
- Numbers of children on site;
- Early Years settings;
- Lateral Flow testing;
- Remote learning;
- Mental health and wellbeing;
- Free School Meals during term time;
- COVID winter grant; and
- Children and young people’s views and COVID.
Some of the key points and themes that arose from the Committee’s discussions were:
- To recognise the important role that the Council had been playing in supporting schools during this time;
- Engagement with remote learning, including how this was being monitored and how lack of engagement was being addressed;
- Children attending school during lockdown, including the level of demand for places;
- Request for a breakdown by ethnicity of children who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were having to self-isolate;
- Were nurseries reluctant to offer places to new children in the current situation and were some children, therefore, unable to access Early Years provision;
- The COVID winter grant;
- Concern about inconsistency between schools about staff being on site and that teachers were being treated differently from other schools staff; and
- The inappropriate use of laptops provided to pupils, that the cost to individual schools of purchasing software to prevent this was very expensive and whether the Council could facilitate a large-scale purchase of this software at a lower cost.
A Member who was a Primary School Teacher Representative outlined the challenges schools had faced regarding the number of children who were eligible to access on-site learning during lockdown, advising that headteachers had had to make difficult decisions, taking into account the needs of vulnerable children and staff safety. She also informed Members how children learning at home were being supported by schools, including schools loaning laptops, helping parents to access Google Classroom on a range of devices, providing paper copies of work where necessary, monitoring how families were managing with remote learning, having screen free days and providing certificates and postcards to pupils to help to motivate them. She highlighted that children were still receiving an education during this period and that the area that they would most need to catch up on post-lockdown was their social and mental well-being.
The Director of Education advised that most schools had been able to meet demand for on-site places for the children of critical workers but that there were four schools where the level of demand had been very challenging and headteachers had had to make decisions, taking into account a number of factors, for example, that staff also had to provide remote learning to pupils who were not on site and the number of staff who were able to come into school each day, as some were Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and some had to self-isolate. She reported that schools were offering on-site provision for vulnerable children, including those who they had identified as not having coped well with being at home during the first lockdown and those who could not access remote learning. She confirmed that schools were monitoring whether pupils were accessing remote learning and that some pupils had been asked to come back on site because they were not accessing the remote learning. She advised Members that the data on the number of pupils who had tested positive for COVID-19 was provided by Public Health and that she would ask whether it was possible to provide this information broken down by ethnicity.
The Director of Education reported that a high number of private, voluntary and independent sector early years settings in the city were open and that she was not aware of any issue with children getting places but that she would look into this. She advised that early years settings would be experiencing the same issues as schools in terms of staff availability and that there were strict staff to children ratios in this sector.
In response to a Member’s question, the Director of Education reported that arrangements had been put in place for COVID-19 tests for staff at schools and settings in the area where the COVID-19 variant of concern had been identified. In response to another question, she informed the Committee that there was no update as yet on the plans for summer examinations, including vocational qualifications.
The Director of Education informed the Committee that a reminder had been sent out to schools earlier this week about the COVID winter grant and how they could refer families for this and that her service would continue to remind staff, schools and settings about this. The Deputy Director of Children’s Services reported that 291 payments had been made from this fund, in relation to 422 children. He advised that the grant system had only been in place for two weeks but that he supported work to re-publicise this. In response to a Member’s question, the Executive Member for Children and Schools confirmed that the COVID winter grant could be used to help families with obtaining internet access.
The Executive Member for Children and Schools reported that the Council had been meeting regularly with trade unions which represented teachers and other schools staff and that the issue of equal treatment between different staff groups had been raised. He informed Members that the Council had made clear its position that all staff should be given equal consideration and that, where staff were able to work from home, they should be allowed to; however, schools had highlighted the additional difficulties they were facing due to more children being on site during this lockdown than during the first lockdown. He reported that trade unions could contact the Council’s HR specialist advisers who were liaising with schools regarding any issues.
In response to a Member’s question on the use of Lateral Flow Tests in secondary schools and colleges, the Director of Education reported that the Department for Education was supplying these directly to schools, along with guidance on their use. She advised that schools were currently using these to test staff and that some were using them to test pupils who were coming on site but that schools did have some concerns about the logistics of the testing once they had high numbers of pupils on site. In response to a question about childminders, she informed the Committee that children who were with childminders during the day would be expected to access remote learning from their school, as they would if they were at home with their family. She reported that she would look into the issue raised about centrally sourcing software for laptops provided to children and young people to ensure that they were not accessing inappropriate material.
To thank schools staff and officers in the Directorate for their hard work and to ask the Strategic Director for Children and Education Services and the Director of Education to pass on the Committee’s thanks.
[Councillor Alijah declared a personal interest as the parent of a nursery-age child who did not have nursery place.]