Written evidence submitted by the Confederation of School Trusts (CST)


Education Committee call for evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on education and children’s services

Response of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST)

A              Introduction

1               The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body representing over a third of the academy sector in England. This places CST in a strong position to consider this issue from the viewpoint of the system’s leaders in self-governing organisations.

2               We are completely apolitical. We work with political parties and politicians across the spectrum to advance education in the public benefit.

3               CST welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry.

B               The implementation of the critical workers policy

4               The government published the list of critical workers who can access schools or educational settings on 20th March 2020. Although the list was widely perceived to be too loose, in fact attendance at education settings has remained between 0.5 and 2%. We have seen a gradual increase in attendance following the end of the Easter break.

5               The clear message that parents should keep their children at home, wherever possible, and that schools are to remain open only for those children who absolutely need to attend, has largely worked.

6               If anything, the concern is not about the implementation of the critical workers policy, but rather about the attendance of children who need our care and support (deemed ‘vulnerable’) who may be less safe at home attending education settings, although this too has increased in recent weeks.

C               The capacity of children’s services to support vulnerable children and young people

7               CST members have reported that the capacity of children’s services has been variable across the country. In some localities partnership work between local authorities, schools and trusts has been strong and purposeful, but in a few localities this has not been the case.

8               Where local arrangements have been strong, local authorities, schools and trusts have worked in civic partnership. CST believes that civic actors working together to ensure the value of the child and the quality of education is a catalyst for change going forward. We would refer the committee to our work on civic trusts.

D              The effect of provider closure on the early years sector

9               The early years are crucial for learning, notably early reading. It is not yet possible to assess the impact of early read loss, but it is clear that we will need intensive evidence-based early reading programmes when schools and settings open more widely to mitigate against the gaps in crucial early learning.

E               The effect of cancelling formal exams

10           Ofqual and the awarding organisations have a huge task to do, which they are approaching with rigour. Ofqual process for awarding this year will take into account a broad range of evidence, including assessments by schools, trusts and colleges of the grades that students would have been likely to obtain if exams went ahead and their prior attainment.

11           Ofqual has undertaken an equality impact assessment informed by a review of the research literature on bias in teacher assessments.

12           An important mitigation is that pupils who do not feel their calculated grade reflects their ability will have the opportunity to sit an exam in the autumn.

13           For schools, trusts and colleges, it is important to focus on the destinations of young people and to provide more support to young people to secure a place in their destination of choice.

F                Support for pupils and families during closures

14           We have seen extraordinary acts of professional generosity during COVID-19. We would like to give two examples of teachers and leaders working together to help each other and families during COVID-19.

15           Our first example is the Oak National Academy – a national online classroom set up by more than 80 state schools and organisations across the sector, working together. It provides a sequenced plan of video lessons, following a clear curriculum. In the first two weeks of opening, 4.5 million lessons were accessed.

16           Our second example is StarLine – a parent helpline for home learning. StarLine was set up by a group of education and parenting organisations. The helpline provides parents and carers the opportunity to ask questions about home learning from qualified teachers with substantial experience and expertise. Parents have an exceptionally difficult task trying to support their children’s learning and juggling many other commitments. StarLine makes sure that additional advice, guidance and reassurance is available to families five days a week as they continue to work and learn in the home environment.

17           There are many other examples of organisations supporting pupils and families during lockdown. What makes these two examples stand out is that they are formed in the spirit of professional collaboration and were borne from the charitable purpose of school trusts to advance education for public benefit.

G              The financial implications of closures for providers

18           The financial implications of closures for schools and trusts is not yet fully known because schools and trusts are still responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

19           During lockdown while schools have remained open for those pupils who most need our care and support, there have been significant financial pressures for example in moving to online platforms, purchasing internet connected devices for pupils, premises and cleaning related costs, and support for free school meals where this is being delivered outside the national voucher scheme. Schools and trusts will now face cost pressures in relation to supply staff to cover where teachers and school staff are not able to return to school.

20           Schools and trusts have lost income from a variety of sources and this will have, in some cases, a very significant impact on financial viability.

21           The Department for Education (DfE) has recognised some of these cost pressures and has made additional funding available to meet some of the exceptional costs associated with COVID-19 for the period March to July 2020. However, this is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the true costs associated with COVID-19.

22           DfE is not asking schools and trusts to draw on existing reserves to meet these costs. However, DfE does not expect schools and trusts to make a claim against this funding if they are anticipating that they will be able to add to their reserves in the 2020 to 2021 financial year. CST believes this is contrary to the principles of good financial planning. Reserves are part of long-term strategic financial planning and it does not make sense to penalise schools and trusts that are exercising prudence to financial planning. CST recommends that this requirement is lifted.

23           CST also recommends that all monies spent on providing free school meals outside the national voucher scheme are reimbursed and that the caps on funding set out in DfE guidance are lifted for this purpose.

24           The DfE should keep COVID-19 related financial pressures on schools and trusts under review and work with HM Treasury to secure a further financial settlement if necessary.

H              The effect on disadvantaged groups

25           We would like to offer an impact analysis looking at educational, social and economic impacts of COVID-19.

Educational impact

26           We know the educational impact will be significant. Despite our best efforts, groups of children will return to school having missed substantial parts of their education. There will need to be reintroduction into the routines of schooling and possibly the introduction of some new routines as we learn how to deal with new scientific and medical guidance.

27           There is a lot of talk about catch up – the best ‘catch up’ we can provide is intensive and responsive teaching. So, we need our teachers to be the best they can be when we return to school. This is why high-quality professional development during and after the period of lock down is so important. We need teachers and support staff to be the best that they can be. This also means looking after their wellbeing.

Social impact

28           We know there has been a significant increase in domestic violence. We believe there will be implications of the lock down for mental ill-health. Some families are under considerably more pressure confined in their homes. Some children and young people will be bereaved. There are families we were already worried about before COVID-19. For some of these, the lock down will have intensified stress on family life. There are also families where we had some concerns – and some others where we had no concerns – who are now under considerable stress. So, schools and trusts are already planning to strengthen welfare and pastoral systems.

29           CST recommends that local authorities and health commissioners should look at whether there is sufficient family support in their local area – for example mental health provision, bereavement support and provision for adults and children fleeing domestic violence.

Economic impact

30           The government has put in place safety nets to protect as many adults as possible from the economic impact of COVID-19. But for some families, the economic impacts are likely to be felt for some time to come. The strong likelihood is that we will see a rise in child poverty, with the wider welfare issues that go along with that. This is a challenge for us all.


31           How do we respond to these challenges? Resilience theory may help us. Resilience is a characteristic of all living systems. Living systems are purposeful, complex and adaptive. In resilience theory, systems operate at many different scales—ranging from individual cells, to higher organisms, to sophisticated communities, to entire ecosystems.

32           So, we need to build resilience – of our children and young people, families and communities.  Ann Mastin, writing in The American Psychologist in 2001, says that “the study of resilience in development has overturned many negative assumptions and deficit-focused models about children growing up under the threat of disadvantage and adversity. The most surprising conclusion emerging from studies of these children is the ordinariness of resilience.” Her conclusion is that resilience is made of ordinary rather than extraordinary processes. She calls this ‘ordinary magic’.

33           CST believes we need to harness the ‘ordinary magic’ of schools. We would caution against layering multiple interventions onto schools at this time. Introducing more complexity may mitigate against the most effective interventions, the things that schools do well - strong, purposeful teaching; a planned curriculum; powerful welfare and pastoral systems.

I                 Sector resilience

34           In addition to building the resilience of our children, young people, families and communities, CST believes we need to build sector resilience in two important ways.

Resilient school structures

35           Groups of schools working together in a single governance structure have shown themselves to be the most resilient of school structures during the lockdown. This is because they were able to leverage their strategic capability and capacity to support the schools in the group, both in terms of curriculum and in terms of the logistics of operational support - estates management, HR and workforce planning.

36           In order to build sector resilience, we need to plan for every school to be a part of a strong and sustainable group in a single governance structure.

Resilient curriculum delivery

37           We need a strategic plan for the next academic year assuming the virus is still with us – the strong likelihood is that we will need to make some tactical adjustments to provision which may necessitate blended models of delivery – in other words, moving between classroom and online delivery of the curriculum.

38           The last point has significant implications. As yet, we understand very little about remote learning. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a very helpful rapid evidence assessment examining the existing research to support the remote learning of pupils. CST would like to highlight two specific findings. Firstly, teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered and secondly, we need to ensure access to technology, especially for disadvantaged pupils. Curriculum coherence and continuity are crucial if we are to succeed in a blended model of delivery.

39           CST recommend that these form the cornerstones of a strategy to build sector resilience for the next academic year and beyond.

J                 Conclusion

40           I hope that this is of value to your inquiry. CST is willing to be further consulted and to assist in any way that we can.


June 2020

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