The Secretary of State has directed that remote education shall be a legal requirement. So what does this mean for schools and trusts?
The Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, has issued a temporary continuity direction, in exercise of his powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020, requiring schools to provide remote education to pupils. The direction is accompanied by an explanatory note which schools must have regard to when complying with the direction.
What is the direction?
Schools must provide remote education where a pupil's travel to or attendance at school would be contrary to guidance published by the Department for Education (DfE) or Public Health England or prohibited by legislation. In other words, where a class, group of pupils or individual pupil need to self-isolate or there are local, regional/tiered or national restrictions requiring pupils to remain at home, schools are expected to provide those pupils with immediate access to remote education.
The direction has effect from 22 October 2020 until the end of the current school year, unless the requirement is ended sooner by a further direction.
Who is affected?
The direction applies to:
- all state-funded schools in England. This covers maintained schools, academies, independent special schools, and other independent schools with pupils whose education is entirely state funded, for example through an assisted place or an education, health and care plan; and
- pupils of compulsory school age and younger children who are expected to be educated with them (most commonly in a reception class).
Who is not affected?
The requirement will not apply to students in post-16 education, i.e. those attending further education colleges, sixth form colleges, sixth forms or 16-19 Academies.
What is 'remote education'?
The direction defines 'remote education' as education provided to a pupil who does not attend school. The explanatory note expects the quality of education to remain as set out in the guidance for full opening published in July 2020 (updated on 1 October), which expects remote education to:
- be high quality, safe and aligned as closely as possible with in-school provision
- be meaningful, ambitious, well-planned and clear
- avoid an over-reliance on long-term projects or internet research activities
- consider the age, stage, development or SEN of the pupil
- make reasonable adjustments for pupils with SEN, as necessary
- provide printed resources where pupils do not have online access and
- provide interaction, assessment and feedback
It is also essential to keep children safe online and therefore follow the statutory guidance keeping children safe in education. My colleague, Alacoque Marvin has recently posted on Safeguarding and Remote Learning in the time of Covid-19, available on our website.
Schools and trusts have already done an amazing job in providing remote education to pupils who are self-isolating, by expanding provision online and supporting those without adequate broadband or IT equipment. They need the government to play its part and deliver on its commitment to provide laptops to those who need them. However, schools will be well aware of the need to tailor remote provision to the educational abilities and needs of pupils who are not able to attend, including non-electronic alternatives such as workbooks and textbooks.
What if I don't comply?
Schools and trusts will do whatever they can to comply with the direction. However, in the event that they don't or can't comply, the government can apply to court for an injunction to require them to do so. That said, the explanatory note considers this a last resort.
The remote education direction, which takes effect on 22 October 2020, changes very little. It makes the provision of remote education, already expected in the guidance for full opening published in July 2020, a legal requirement. This is enforceable by an injunction, as a last resort, with the DfE saying it will help schools with their remote education plans and provision. Schools and trusts need the DfE to step up to the plate which includes delivering on the promised laptops for those whom most need them.
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