Slough headteachers hit out at Government's handling of COVID-19 crisis

Headteachers from Slough have hit out at the level of support offered by the Department for Education (DfE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jo Rockall, in charge at Herschel Grammar School, accused the Government’s education department of providing a lack of ‘effective and credible leadership’ and pointed to ‘serious failings’ which have affected education provision for children and families.

Ms Rockall is part of the campaign group Worth Less? which includes headteachers from across the country.

The organisation is raising concerns about a number of issues including guidance over upcoming exams and failure to provide equipment for the most disadvantaged students.

In a letter to Slough MP Tan Dhesi, the Herschel headteacher said: “Every headteacher recognises the complexity of the current situation and the huge challenges involved in mitigating risk and trying to reduce the most serious implications relating to COVID-19.

“Over time, however, we have become increasingly disillusioned by a persistent lack of effective and credible leadership emanating from the Department for Education.”

Ms Rockall also said the DfE had been unclear about the use of PPE in educational settings, had provided inconsistent information regarding the transmission of the virus in schools and had failed to communicate with headteachers on the ground.

Jamie Rockman, executive headteacher at Haybrook College, who is also part of the campaign group, echoed the call for the DfE to engage in more positive communication to address problems.

He said: “We are part of a relentlessly reasonable network of school leaders across Slough, and the rest of the country, who despite complexities of the COVID-19 situation, are working exceptionally hard to keep schools as fully operational as possible, to meet not only the educational needs of our young people but their social and emotional needs during this crisis.

“School leaders therefore, need the Department for Education to engage in positive communication with the sector to address the issues of the national campaign; such as exam contingency plans, COVID-19 related expenditure and availability of regular testing for school staff.”

The campaign group is calling on the DfE to urgently publish its contingency plans for GCSE and A-Levels, postpone the planned re-introduction of Ofsted inspections in January and stop publishing performance tables next year.

The education department has also been urged to fully reimburse schools for COVID-19 related costs, prioritise staff for COVID-19 testing and reverse cuts to laptops allocated to disadvantage students.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “The Government has made it a national priority to get all pupils back into school full-time as it is the best place for their education and wellbeing.

“On average, costs to schools to become COVID-secure will have been a relatively small proportion of their core funding for each pupil, which for secondary schools has increased to a minimum of £5,150, the first year of the biggest increase to core school funding in a decade.

“We know that some children do need additional support to catch up as a result of the pandemic, which is why we launched an additional £1billion Covid catch-up fund for schools to support those children who need it.”

It added exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance and are still due to go ahead next year.

The DfE said mass asymptomatic COVID-19 tests will soon be piloted in educational settings.

MP for Slough Tan Dhesi said: “The Conservative Government’s continued incompetence in the handling of this pandemic has serious consequences when it comes to our children’s education, so I am deeply concerned by the points raised by local schools regarding DfE failures.

"Whether it has been chaos surrounding exams, the broken test, track and trace system, varied PPE guidance, poor communication, missing home learning provision or continued u-turns on free school meals, the Government has displayed a distinct lack of leadership and reassurance."

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