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Sun, 27 September 2020

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Headteachers tell Gavin Williamson they feel ‘let down’ and ‘isolated’ ahead of back-to-school push

Headteachers tell Gavin Williamson they feel ‘let down’ and ‘isolated’ ahead of back-to-school push

The group of headteachers warned the Education Secretary they were ‘working in isolation’. (PA)

3 min read

Teachers’ confidence in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been “significantly knocked” ahead of a major government push to get children back in the classroom, school leaders have warned.

In a letter to the Cabinet minister sent just days before schools are expected to reopen, the campaign group ‘Worth Less?’ said they had been left “working in isolation” on the plans.

And they warned that teachers cannot “simply carry on as before” as they called on the Government to focus on “consultation and partnership” with schools.

The Education Secretary has been under intense political pressure over the Government’s botched handling of this year’s exam results.

But he has been kept in place by Boris Johnson as the Department for Education focuses on a classroom return described by the Prime Minister on Monday as “vitally important”.

“Collaboration, consultation and partnership have felt in short supply" - 'Worth Less?' campaign group

In their message to the embattled Education Secretary, shared with The Guardian, the group of headteachers argue that they are not being listened to or trusted by government in the run-up to next week’s reopening.

“The complexity of the challenges that lie ahead must not…be underestimated, and if children and their families are to be most effectively served, urgent improvements to current ways of working are required,” they warn.

The group, which has previously piled pressure on ministers over schools funding, added: “As headteachers face some of the most important challenges of our professional lives, all too often we feel that we are working in isolation from government rather than in harmony with our political masters.

“Collaboration, consultation and partnership have felt in short supply and this caused immense frustration as time, energy and resources have been wasted by headteachers as we respond to shifting policy directives and myriad changes.”

And they warned: “The pandemic has already created far-reaching problems for many children. The notion that schools will find a ‘new normal’ that allows provision to simply carry on as before is unhelpful in the extreme. New priorities have emerged and they will need to be tackled quickly and effectively.”

‘Worth Less?’ leader Jules White, head teacher at Tanbridge House school in Horsham, meanwhile told The Guardian: “The majority of heads feel let down by the Department for Education and indeed [exams regulator] Ofqual. 

“Whilst we support the government’s aspirations to get every child back to school safely, heads require more than just vague words to deliver effectively for every child.”

“We believe there’s a system of controls that are in place in all schools for children to be able to return safely" - Gavin Williamson

Pupils in England and Wales are expected to be back in the classroom from next week, following similar moves in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday confirmed that her government was in the “final stages” of consulting on plans to require staff and pupils in secondary school to wear face coverings when moving between classrooms in a bid to avoid a resurgence of Covid-19.

But Mr Williamson said the UK Government was “not in a position where we’re suggesting that” for England.

He added: “We believe there’s a system of controls that are in place in all schools for children to be able to return safely and for staff to be able to operate safely within those schools. 

“And we’ve seen this rolled out right across the country. We’ve had over 1.6 million children return back to school safely. 

“But, of course, this is all in conjunction with our whole set of wider efforts to continue to control this virus and that’s why we’ve always taken a very careful, and very cautious approach as we’ve brought schools back.”

However, he made clear that shutting schools in areas where localised lockdown restrictions are imposed would be kept as a “last resort” option by the Government.

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