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Learning from schools

As someone whose career anchor is teaching, with eight years as a secondary headteacher, one of the joys of the DCS role for me is visiting schools. Across the almost 12 years that I have been a DCS in two LAs, I have started every Friday during term time with two school visits. These visits ended with lockdown in March and will not recommence with such regularity for some time.

Following the wider opening of schools from 1st June, I offered to visit any school within their Covid-19 visitor protocols and have done the same this term. These visits (nine so far) have been invaluable in understanding the experience of children, school staff, governors, and parents. In July, a visit to a primary school in the area with the highest Covid-19 death rate in Brent (and therefore in the UK) made a great impact on me when I went out to do end of day gate duty with the headteacher and saw the visceral fear in the parents in the street waiting to collect their children.

My most recent visit this term was also to a primary school. This school is four form entry with 98.5% of pupils from Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic backgrounds, with 83% of pupils who have English as an additional language (45 home languages) and high levels of disadvantage and additional need. Under the leadership of a relatively new team the school had made an impressive full return. Attendance was 96% with all children, supported by parents, very keen to return to the full school experience. The planned recovery curriculum had been set aside, to be drawn upon when needed, with the new curriculum being delivered in appropriately risk assessed arrangements. The school also volunteered to pilot the Ofsted assurance visits.

One statistic from this visit does now stand out. This half term, only one family had opted for elective home education (EHE). Similarly only one family from the school in July has moved to EHE. Whilst across Brent we did not see the level of EHE requests in the early weeks of September that other LAs experienced, we are now seeing an exponential increase as London has moved from tier one COVID alert level to tier two with media coverage of a likely move to tier three.

As chair of the ADCS Educational Achievement Committee, I have been pressing for the publication of the government’s response to the consultation on EHE and next week, I will be signing off the ADCS submission to the Education Select Committee inquiry into EHE. The evidence from our ADCS survey on EHE is going to be a key resource for ADCS representatives in upcoming meetings with DfE ministers and officials so I urge all local authorities to complete it – the deadline is 2 November.

The link between EHE and safeguarding is well known, with the National Child Safeguarding Panel also scoping a review. In educational achievement terms, the recent gains made in narrowing the gap – in Brent for boys of Black Caribbean heritage – will be undermined by any loss of learning in the home environment. We need to work collectively to challenge this.

A clear benefit of school visits is the direct feedback. The classes in my most recent visit had clearly been briefed about the ‘important visitor’. When I visited a class to congratulate them on their 100% attendance, a voice from the back commented ‘she does not look that strict.’ Not feedback I have ever previously received!

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