Cash announced for pupil wellbeing, while face mask safety, Covid recovery funding and SEND provision cause concern
Schools offered cash to support pupils’ mental health
At the start of mental health Awareness Week, the government announced a £17m wellbeing support package for schools to help ‘recover from the challenges of the pandemic’
This included money to train a member of their staff over the next academic year to be a senior mental health lead.
Then on Tuesday, it launched its Wellbeing Charter for school staff.
This was co-created with various partners, including the main unions, mental health charity Mind, and some schools.
It is a tool designed to help schools commit to promoting and enhancing the wellbeing and mental health of their staff. This includes to reduce workloads, measure and respond to changes in staff wellbeing, break down stigma around mental health, and embed wellbeing in CPD.
The DfE said it will publicise in the autumn how schools can sign up to the charter, if they wish to.
All of this ‘comes after years of government underfunding of schools and colleges which has taken its toll on their capacity to provide pastoral support, and very severe difficulties in accessing NHS children’s mental health services for young people with complex problems’, said ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton. He also wanted to see a greater focus on addressing the causes of poor mental health.
There were also concerns about the lack of mention of support for staff wellbeing. ‘The success of education recovery depends upon the wellbeing of teachers, and the Government must urgently set out how it intends to support teachers’ mental health and wellbeing,’ said NASUWT General Secretary Patrick Roach.
Relaxing of face masks use causes concern
As Boris Johnson’s announcement that students would no longer have to wear face masks in schools from Monday 17 May, many teachers were concerned about the safety implications.
The government’s announcement came as its latest attendance figures showed an increase in the number of pupils off with suspected Covid. Headteachers called for greater caution, to stop cases rising – and told the DfE not to ignore the advice from the scientists.
‘The fact that we have seen a growing number of pupils needing to self-isolate raises further questions about the government’s apparent willingness to ignore the advice from scientists, including SAGE, when it comes to face coverings,’ said NAHT General Secretary Paul Whiteman. ‘Parents, pupils and staff will want to understand why removing the requirement for face coverings in classrooms is considered appropriate when it is not for other enclosed spaces,’ he added.
Under the new Covid rules coming into force on 17 May, schools will still be expected to operate social distancing, and rapid testing and all other protective measures will ‘remain in place’. Staff will have to continue to where masks in spaces where social distancing is not possible, such as the staffroom.
‘Big funding package needed for Covid recovery’
A £13.5bn package of measures is needed over the next three years to overcome learning lost during the pandemic.
In a report published on Friday, the Education Policy Institute set out a costed plan of the action required.
- Extending school hours – £3.2bn over three years
- Summer wellbeing programmes – £2bn over three years
- One-to-one and group tuition – £340m over two years
- Mental health support workers in schools 0 £1.5bn over three years
- Incentives for teachers to work in challenging areas – £135m over three years
The NEU said the report showed the scale of the disruption caused by the pandemic. Government’s response so far has been ‘utterly deficient’, said Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney.
ASCL General Secretary Geoff Barton called the EPI report ‘an excellent contribution to the debate’ about Covid recovery.
The NAHT said that the government at the very least should match recovery investment made in other developed countries.
Meanwhile, the DfE pulled funding for the new teacher catch-up resources on the day bidding closed for tenders from providers. This followed concern that the process may have discriminated against certain providers.
Last week, Director General of the British Educational Suppliers Association had warned some providers may have been precluded from bidding due to the DfE’s ‘unrealistic deadlines’.
The DfE said it was now ‘working on a longer-term strategy to support education recovery’.
SEND pupils ‘not getting enough support’
Some pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are not getting enough support in mainstream schools, claims Ofsted in a new report Supporting SEND.
Their research highlighted a number of concerns that could be causing this disparity of support:
- Gaps in teachers’ understanding of the needs of their SEND pupils
- Some pupils becoming over-reliant on support from a teaching assistant (TA)
- Curriculum not being properly matched to the needs of SEND pupils
- Parents not being given enough information about their child’s learning and development
- SENCOs also being full-time teachers, affecting the time they have to fully support SEND pupils.
The report also said that TAs need to have ‘robust-subject-specific curriculum knowledge’ to give SEND students the support they need.
At the end of the week, it was revealed that councils are having to cut services for SEN pupils because of the huge funding shortfall they are faced with. Figures compiled by the Observer, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, puts the accumulated shortfall at £503m. Government rules stopping councils from diverting funds from other budgets has made the situation worse.
‘Early intervention and the strengthening of mainstream provision can only happen if there is serious and sustained investment in support,’ said Gillian Doherty, of campaign group Send Action. ‘What we’re actually seeing is the opposite, with the Department for Education using safety valve agreements to coerce councils into making cuts in return for financial bailouts, for example by driving mainstream schools to meet a higher level of need in a more cost effective way while miraculously maintaining the quality of provision.’
Ofqual makes more announcements on exams
Autumn GCSE and A-level exams in some subjects will cover a reduced amount of content, said Ofqual. The qualifications awarding body also opened a consultation on how non-exam assessment and fieldwork should be carried out for 2022 exam students, in the light of the pandemic. You have until 28 May to give your views.
Ofqual asks for your views on how non-exam assessments should be carried out next year. You have until 28 May to give your views.