“Sir Michael Wilshaw said responsibility for the very many mistakes lies with the Secretary of State for Education.  I think it goes to the top, i.e. the Prime Minister.”

Government does not seem to understand what contingency planning means. A recent publication refers to a contingency framework, but this is yet another deceptive phrase designed to hoodwink the general public into thinking government is well prepared, when clearly it is not.

The Education Policy Institute published a range of suggestions for schools to deal with assessments (for example) way back in June.  The Liberal Democrat Education Association issued a statement in October calling for exams to be replaced by an alternative system of assessment for 2021; a decision then would have given time for schools and exam boards to plan it properly and prevent the unnecessary anxieties that are now troubling our youngsters, yet again.

Various suggestions have floated around as to how schools can provide a blend of face to face teaching and remote learning, rota systems so that all pupils can attend school safely with social distancing and so on.  All this information was around in plenty of time to prepare for possible difficulties and it was ignored. The signs of a worsening virus situation started to emerge in September, but schools were expected to carry on as normal, in spite of the test and trace system still not fully functioning. Many of the promised laptops for pupils who had to learn at home have still not arrived; the tutoring system promised for youngsters to catch up started late, is still not providing for all who need it and schools were told they have to contribute to its cost out of budgets that had already been set.

At end of term, schools were told to spend Christmas organising virus testing for all pupils from the new year. Then they were told this only applies to Secondary schools; then only exam students would have to resume school as normal and delayed for the others. The National Education Union suggested local public health directors could help the schools but they were told the army would help, which turned out to be only over the phone advice. Some wealthy academy trusts have advertised to pay people to do the virus testing in their schools; others have to rely on unpaid volunteers.  Some primary schools in tier 4 would not open, others would. And so it went on.

Sir Michael Wilshaw (former head of the school inspectors) said on 5 January responsibility for the very many mistakes lies with Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education.  I think it goes to  the top; i.e. the Prime Minister.  On Sunday Boris Johnson said schools were safe; then on Monday he announced that it is not safe for children to attend school and exams were to be cancelled with no information how schools should organise alternative methods of assessment. He assumes that schools should be as normal, until he is forced into a knee-jerk reaction because too many people are dying, too many are getting the virus and both schools and the NHS are facing inability to cope. Much of the disruption to schools could have been prevented.

We have a government that believes it is there to rule on its own, without transparency (i.e. secretly).  It has rebutted attempts by teacher unions and local authorities to work with them; for a long time it even prevented them from seeing the data and advice that government was receiving. Last week it would not reveal the data on which it was saying that schools should return as normal this new year. It threatened legal action because a local authority told its schools to close early before Christmas; that local authority is now seen to have been correct in its decision. Furthermore, government’s own behaviour has been so bad that teacher representatives have considered legal action against the government for the way schools have been treated

Nigel Jones , January 2021

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