Does the new Government Direction on the provision of remote education clarify the duties and expectations of schools during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

We have received a number of queries regarding:

  • the nature and quality of remote education being offered to pupils
  • wellbeing concerns about pupils
  • the increasing number of schools closing to at least some cohorts in the face of positive test results
  • parental concerns about value for money
  • whether the remote education provided meets a school's contractual obligations and operational issues about how to deliver it effectively

We had hoped that the new guidance on remote education may help to clarify duties and expectations with this in mind.

The Government issued the Coronavirus Act 2020 Provision of Remote Education (England) Temporary Continuity Direction ('the Direction') on 1 October 2020 which comes into effect on 22 October 2020. This principally relates to state-funded schools and for independent schools, the Direction is only relevant to those pupils whose places are wholly paid out of public funds.

The Direction is expected to have effect until the end of this academic year. It imposes a legal duty on state-funded schools to provide 'remote education' to pupils of compulsory school age where a class, group of pupils or individual pupils need to self-isolate, or there are local or national restrictions requiring pupils to remain at home. It does not define remote education or give clear guidance as to what is meant by it. It does however reinforce government expectations on all schools to plan for disruption to schooling during the 2020 - 2021 academic year and to offer immediate remote education to pupils who cannot attend, as set out in the non-statutory guidance for full opening.

The majority of independent schools have been educating the majority of their pupils remotely since March 2020 and will have adapted their curriculum and contingency plans to meet the government expectations, set out in the guidance for full opening, which include:

  • providing access to "high quality" remote education online and offline resources and teaching videos which are linked to the school's curriculum expectations
  • using online tools to "allow interaction, assessment and feedback" and ensure staff are properly trained to enable this
  • providing printed resources, textbooks and workbooks to pupils without suitable online access
  • ensuring suitable remote education for younger pupils and pupils with SEND who may not be able to access education without adult support (which will require schools to work with families to ensure they have a broad and ambitious curriculum)

The Government has also published non-statutory guidance 'Remote education good practice' in which it states that the most successful method of delivery is where "live classrooms are replicated in a remote environment" (the method adopted by most independent schools). This method enables a school to deliver a broad and balanced curriculum on a daily basis, opportunities for teachers and pupils to interact, supports pupil motivation and leads to better progress.

In the light of this, we consider that threshold expectations regarding the quality of remote education (in whatever context it is required) have been raised.

Earlier non-statutory guidance, How schools can plan for tier 2 local restrictions, also contains good practice recommendations on remote education.

What Should Schools Do Now?

Essentially, we would recommend that schools:

  • prepare for the continued need for remote education for individual pupils and cohorts until the end of the academic year
  • consult and communicate with stakeholders and undertake regular reviews of the quality of the remote education provision
  • consider how this can best replicate a 'live classroom' environment and assess opportunities for live interaction, assessment and feedback
  • consider additional support for those pupils who need it

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