I’ve been busy, this week, in dealing with a number of National issues.
Quite a lot of my time, certainly earlier in the week, was spent dealing with the pandemic.
On Tuesday, I was asked by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) to present about our schools’ responses in relation to our New Schooling 2 offer. I’d agreed to do it a few weeks ago and before I’d realised, I was sharing the (virtual) platform with Gavin Williamson and the new children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza. No pressure then!!
It’s always a tricky “ask” to try and defend a position that we all know is far from perfect. Our remote learning offer is much better than most but is still far, far from ideal for our children and young people. We have always viewed the New Schooling Offer as a “stop gap”. Our mission has to be to try and get all our children and young people back to face to face schooling as soon as is practicable. I used this opportunity to try and promote our investment in technology, the effectiveness of our staff teams in delivering and the advantages of trying to be ahead of the game. Almost all our children are/were well used to using their iPads in their learning journeys. I stressed that there are many areas where remote learning struggles to be as effective as a face to face schooling offer. I believe that to be particularly true when talking about relationships, interaction, developing friendships etc. etc. I saw a super quote the other day that stated,
“sometimes your child’s mental health is more important than their grades”
So, let’s move on to Wednesday. I chaired a National SEND Review meeting that, amongst other things, discussed the roll out of a “new” test for young people. The PCR test involves the children and young people spitting (or placing saliva) into a small container with the help of a funnel. The test then takes place rapidly and a result can be acted upon accordingly. Obviously, this has the potential to be a real “game changer” for many of our children who we know will/would not tolerate a swab being inserted to the back of their throats and up their noses. I have agreed that all our schools and organisations would welcome being part of the pilot – more news to follow as I get more details. Families will obviously need to give consent.
I’ve also been working with Schools Week on a piece that they ran on Friday. As you know, I have been actively campaigning for all our front-line staff to be vaccinated in line with other social care and health care workers.
The Office for National Statistics data made it very clear that staff that work in special schools have been far more likely to contract the virus and pass it onto their families etc. I have to say that Tameside and Oldham local authorities have been superb in supporting us – and have ensured that we receive either left over vaccines or are prioritised in the second wave. I want to make it absolutely clear that the first vaccines, in our communities, have been quite rightly offered to the most at-risk groups including the elderly and those who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. The potential of having our staff teams protected allows our school leaders to accelerate the planning for a possible return to full time schooling.
I’m conscious that Oldham, Tameside and Salford were instrumental in developing a sensible local initiative that has now spread to over half of the local authorities in the country. Brilliant work everyone.
Back nearer home I’ve opened up some really exciting conversations with all our schools about future planning. Our schools continue to be very popular and our leadership teams and executive teams are working hard to ensure we have appropriate buildings and provision. There’s lots of work happening behind the scenes that I’m not able to disclose as yet – needless to say I will share as soon as I am able.
There’s been a couple of announcements, nationally, that you may need to be aware of. Firstly, all schools have been instructed to close to all children in the February half term. Please make your plans accordingly. We will, however, be sending our school meal vouchers over this period for our families that are entitled.
Another week down – please take care.
You can find all Graham’s previous updates and blog entries here