On Monday 4th May, 280 teachers, parents, support staff, heads and governors in Brighton and Hove took part in a webinar hosted by the National Education Union.
The lively discussion was led by five guest panellists: Caroline Lucas MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Dr Mary Bousted Joint General Secretary of the NEU, Cath Fisher from Save Our Schools and Alison Ali from More Than a Score, who responded to questions from participants. It is planned to make the webinar available on YouTube.
The main topic of conversation was the re-opening of schools and there was unanimous agreement that schools should only open when the NEU’s five tests have been met:
Firstly, a much lower number of Covid-19 cases with extensive arrangements for testing and contract tracing to keep it that way.
Secondly, a national plan for social distancing which includes appropriate physical distancing and levels of mixing in schools, as well as appropriate PPE.
Thirdly, comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff.
Fourthly, whole school strategies with protocols in place to test a whole school when a case occurs and for isolation to be strictly followed.
Fifthly, vulnerable staff and staff who live with vulnerable people must be able to work from home.
In responding to questions about testing, the panellists called for the baseline tests, planned for September, to be scrapped and the whole system of assessment, from primary through to sixth form, to be reviewed and transformed. Assessment should be supporting teaching and learning, and promoting pupil achievement, rather than a crude measure to judge schools in league tables.
Schools have had to reconstitute themselves very quickly to provide distance learning during the pandemic. Teachers spoke of the additional pressures of trying to provide learning activities to pupils in a range of household situations where access to technology and other support varies enormously. Parents spoke of the stresses of trying to maintain routines and balance the demands of education with mental health considerations.
It was clear that the education service cannot just go back to what it was before the pandemic and that in the current circumstances, the health and safety of children and staff and their families is of paramount importance in determining when and how schools should ‘re-open.’
Paul Shellard, NEU Brighton & Hove Secretary said:
“Providing care and education during the pandemic has been a major challenge and brought to the fore many important issues about how education is provided, the values underpinning it and the type of system that educators, parents and children deserve in the future. This event provided an important opportunity to talk about, not only how schools should operate when it is safe for them to re-open, but also whether the high-stakes testing regime and punitive inspection system are working for or against educational achievement for all our children. We are hoping that this is the start of a conversation about how we can build a consensus about what our education system should look like.”