Schools could be sending pupils home ‘too readily’ amid pandemic – Ofsted chief

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector (PA Media)
21:27pm, Fri 06 Nov 2020
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Some schools may be sending children home “too readily” amid the coronavirus pandemic, the chief inspector of Ofsted has said.

Parents of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) pupils have been told that schools cannot accommodate their children due to Covid-19 risk assessments, according to Amanda Spielman.

Speaking at the online National Children and Adult Services Conference, the chief inspector called for a “simplification of Government advice” for schools to help parents and teachers as we enter winter.

“There are indications that schools may sometimes be sending pupils home too readily,” Ms Spielman told local authority professionals.

She highlighted a rise in the number of parents opting to home-school this term – and “quite a proportion” of the children have special educational needs.

Ms Spielman said: “And here, many parents haven’t made an active decision to keep their child at home – they’ve been told that schools can’t accommodate them.

“Because it’s too difficult, because Covid risk assessments won’t allow it. It’s deeply concerning and, understandably, many parents feel cut adrift.”

Although some people are working really creatively to help families, this is an ongoing concern

She added: “For the children with SEND that have been able to get back into education, it hasn’t been plain sailing either.

“We’re hearing that many have suffered setbacks in their communication skills – probably down to having reduced social interaction for such a long time.

“And, although some people are working really creatively to help families, this is an ongoing concern.

“We’ll be looking at this more in the next report from our autumn visits.”

Her comments come after school attendance dropped from 89% to 86% in the week ahead of the October half-term break.

Around 82% of secondary school pupils were in class on October 22, while attendance in primary schools dropped to 90%.

More than half (55%) of secondary schools in England had at least one pupil self-isolating due to potential contact with a Covid-19 case inside the school on October 22, Department for Education (DfE) statistics show.

Children are sent home to self-isolate not on a whim but on the basis of public health advice ... The chief inspector’s comments are remarkably tin-eared

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called the Ofsted chief’s comments “tin-eared”.

“Amanda Spielman should be doing more to support schools and less to talk them down,” he said. “Children are sent home to self-isolate not on a whim but on the basis of public health advice.

“It is an extraordinarily difficult situation and the chief inspector’s comments are remarkably tin-eared.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, accused Ms Spielman of being “completely out of touch” about the reality in schools and what schools are facing.

He said: “The chief inspector should be standing up for schools and asking Government for more teachers, smaller bubbles, extra buildings and curriculum flexibility if she wants to help young people and stop Covid disrupting education.

“Heads are doing everything that is within their control to make education accessible but their hands are tied by the nature of their buildings, the level of staff absence and the level of virus in their local area.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “The Government’s last-minute publication guidance this week does not help schools in this matter one bit.

“The Government’s approach has not done anything to inspire public confidence either. Families will be left wondering about the safety of their children and relatives, and we could see attendance figures drop as families are left guessing about what is safe and what isn’t.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Being at school is vital for children’s mental health and wellbeing as well as for their education. Every child, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities, should have the opportunities school provides.

“Over 99% of schools have been open every week since term began. Whilst a small proportion of pupils are self-isolating in line with public health advice, the vast majority are back at school. We continue to call on schools always to prioritise the most vulnerable children.”

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