UK Greater Manchester's schools 'have descended into chaos' last minute news
MetiNews.Com - Education leaders say northern schools are paying the price for pandemic in more ways than one
Breaking News ! There's no denying the profound effect the pandemic has had on us all. How well the country was prepared for what Covid would bring is the source of much debate. One thing that is certain is the impact it is having on our schools, with those here in Greater Manchester among the hardest hit. Within days of schools returning in September, bubbles of pupils were being sent home to isolate following positive cases. Fast forward two months and it's become a daily occurrence. Thousands of pupils, teachers and support staff have found themselves isolating. For the most unfortunate, it's their fifth time sent home. Read More Related Articles How to sign up to our Manchester Family newsletter Read More Related Articles 'The forgotten north' - parents and heads accuse government of turning a blind eye to school closure chaos As we head into winter, school leaders say cases are rising and the way the virus is affecting staff - those testing positive, identified as close contacts, or forced to stay home with their own children - is impacting on their ability to keep schools open. On top of that is the stress of exams - with the government insisting they will go ahead next year despite the fears that pupils here will be disadvantaged by the time spent remote learning. Earlier this week parents and heads accused the government of turning a blind eye to the chaos being caused by school closures - saying the north is being forgotten because schools in the south aren't being affected by the virus in the same way. Now others are backing that sentiment and calling for immediate action - saying that 'what was already an unacceptable disadvantage gap has been widened and deepened by Covid-19 and the associated loss of learning'. Councillor Garry Bridges (Image: Manchester City Council) Councillor Garry Bridges, Manchester City Council's executive member for children and families, has written to Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson urging him to follow Wales and 'abandon' next summer's exams. He said: "As the academic year progresses it is becoming obvious that we cannot expect pupils to sit GCSEs or A-Levels at the end of the year. Both GCSEs and A Levels are two-year courses and the pupils who were due to sit exams this year not only missed a substantial part of last year but are now experiencing a disrupted year, with repeated need for self-isolation to prevent the spread of Covid-19. "The decision to abandon end of year testing which the government took last year was right and I am at a loss as to how it can then be argued that pupils this year - who have missed a much higher proportion of their course - can be expected to sit their exams as usual." Is your child due to take GCSEs or A-Level exams next year? Have they spent time remote learning since September? How do you feel about the exams going ahead? Let us know in the comments here, or on our Manchester Family Facebook page. Given the hugely different levels of self-isolation in different areas across the country, he said he 'cannot see how the government or Ofqual (the exams regulator) could create anything like a level playing field to assess pupils'. He believes the only way forward is to let teachers issue centre assessed grades and 'to put in place a sensible system of moderation and classroom-based assessment to inform them'. Steve Chalke is founder of the Oasis Trust, which runs 52 academies including the likes of Oasis MediaCityUK and Oasis Academy Oldham. He says it would be 'morally wrong' to press ahead with the exams and agrees we need a system of teacher assessments that are externally moderated. "You can't even compare two children in Manchester at the moment, as one will have spent time isolating and another hasn't, that's without considering how northern kids might compare with those in southern towns," he said. "Every child is in a different situation and no child has the same circumstances." What he does want is some form of results system that is recognised nationally and acknowledged across the board. He said: "We need a new currency for Covid - something that shows what each child has achieved - and where there exam results mean something to everyone." (Image: Manchester Evening News) Mr Chalke is also worried about the strain it is putting on pupils and staff and fears that some teachers may resort to supporting the exam process, because it feels like the only option. He said: "My staff are fantastic, they just keep on going. But they have so much to deal with - trying to keep people safe in school, with all the social distancing and other safety measures, and some of the kids in and trying to teach others at home. "When you're dealing with these things every single day, you're exhausted, you're on your knees and it's amazing how staff are keeping going. "My fear for them is that some teaching staff will think 'just do the exams', as it takes the stress off them, but then of course it bats it onto the kids." Read More Related Articles Seven Greater Manchester schools to shut early for Christmas - to stop families having to isolate over festive period Read More Related Articles Head vents frustration as pupil's positive Covid test shared on social media, but school isn't told We spoke to Steve back in September, when schools were first being impacted by closures. Since then he says schools have 'descended into chaos'. On one day this week, he said 4,000 children were absent from the 32,000 who attend Oasis schools, and 400 staff were missing. Back at the start of the academic year he was calling for a rota system for pupils, rather than 'the chaotic default rota system we have ended up with anyway', and still feels that is necessary. "What we needed for the start of September - and what we still need now - is a national plan for continuity of education throughout the academic year and that must include plans for remote learning," he said.
. "Rather than have each school doing its own thing - which is chaos for parents at the moment - we could have some children in Monday and Tuesday, have a clean down of everything on Wednesday, and then the other children in Thursday and Friday; or we could have a week in and a week out. "Either way there needs to be a discussion between the teaching union, school leaders and the government because what we need is a joined up conversation borne out of mutual respect, rather than the system we've got now. "As winter creeps up we're just going to find more and more random disruption to year groups."
(Image: Getty Images)
Jac Casson, of Greater Manchester's national executive members for the teachers' union NASUWT, says the full 'impact of this disruption within the education sector is impossible to quantify' and that the government's insistence to press ahead with exams 'is wholly unfair and in all likelihood, damaging to the future prospects of our children'. She said: "The lack of certainty about national tests being able to go ahead, in a fair and meaningful way is adding untold burden to both pupils and teachers alike. "NASUWT members are reporting exhaustion, stress and despair from increased workload; trying to encourage and support students who fell behind during partial closure, trying to cater for students who are self-isolating at home, trying to press on with teaching new content with only half their students in the classroom, trying to ensure that enough assessment data is available to potentially evidence Centre Assessed Grades – that they have no idea will be needed or not. Whilst all the while recognising the extreme pressure that our young people themselves are under. "Teachers and school leaders face an inordinately difficult challenge in finding a fine balance between encouraging our pupils to commit to their studies seriously, without putting too much pressure on young people, that have already suffered significant mental health pressures because of the previous and current lockdown."
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She says some teachers are 'being put in exceptionally difficult situations by a small number of headteachers who are insisting that their teaching staff dual teach, effectively wearing headsets and teaching the children in the classroom, whilst those self-isolating log in from home'. "The workload that this creates is unsustainable," she added. "Lesson materials need to be adapted, time is taken from the logistics of setting up to teach in two ways at the same time, attention and focus has to be divided between the pupils actually present and those online." On top of the worries heads and leaders have over exams and rotas, are the mounting costs they are all incurring as a result of the pandemic. From paying for face masks and sanitisation equipment, to supply staff and even things like paper plates they're now using as part of their safety measures, the costs are quickly spiralling.
Oasis Academy MediaCityUK. Every pupil at an Oasis school has been promised an iPad to help with remote learning
Thanks to the scale of Oasis Trust, they've been able to bring their budget forward to help pay for extra technology and every pupil has been promised their own iPad to help them work from home. Other schools aren't so fortunate. Northern education charity Shine says that 'Covid has exacerbated Greater Manchester schools funding crisis' and those in the poorest areas are being hit hardest. CEO Fiona Spellman said: “The financial challenges wrought by Covid on our education system are real and many places aren’t getting anything like enough help. “Educational leaders are having to find funds to cover additional cleaning costs, cover for absent staff and additional measures to support social distancing, all from within existing resources. This is forcing them to make impossible decisions between the physical safety of their pupils and staff and their wider needs. “Just like businesses, schools have faced rapidly rising costs in order to stay open, but unlike businesses, schools are not eligible for grants to alleviate such pressures.” Shine is backing a petition calling on the government to fully fund schools for Covid costs and provide relief for loss of income. The Department for Education says that 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 £5,000 this year, the first year of the biggest increase to core school funding in a decade. On top of the core funding schools are receiving, the government provides pupil premium funding worth £2.4 billion each year to support the most disadvantaged pupils. A DfE spokesperson said: "Exams are the fairest way of judging a student’s performance, which is why Ofqual and the government agree they should go ahead next year. We are working closely with stakeholders on the measures needed to ensure exams can be held, and will set out plans over the coming weeks. “To help children catch-up, our £1 billion covid catch up fund has provision both for additional tutoring targeted at the most disadvantaged, and flexible funding for schools to use to help all their pupils make up for lost education.” The government says the scale and speed at which the department has delivered laptops and tablets to children who need them over the past six months is unprecedented, with deliveries now set to total over half a million by Christmas.
Has your school had to send children home to self-isolate? Let us know in the comments or email the details to firstname.lastname@example.org.