The Education Secretary has provoked anger among school leaders after telling parents they can report schools to Ofsted if they are unhappy with their child’s remote learning provision during closures.
Gavin Williamson told the House of Commons that the schools watchdog would enforce legal requirements for state schools in England to provide high-quality remote education during the lockdown.
He said schools are expected to provide between three and five hours teaching a day – and if parents feel their child is not receiving enough learning they should complain to the school first, and then ultimately to Ofsted.
School leaders’ union NAHT said the threat was “nothing short of disgraceful” while the National Education Union (NEU) said teachers do not need the “spectre” of Ofsted looming over them during the pandemic.
Mr Williamson’s warning came after the Government announced on Monday evening that all pupils – except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils – would move to remote education until mid-February.
But schools are expecting a higher turnout of eligible children onsite than in the March lockdown, prompting concerns about their ability to balance remote education with in-person teaching.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said schools have spent the last 48 hours “working tirelessly” to put plans in place following the sudden announcement of closures.
He said: “It is therefore nothing short of disgraceful that the government should choose today to start threatening schools about the quality of their remote learning offer.
“Schools are keeping going in the most extreme circumstances right now – support is needed to overcome the challenges they face, not threat or sanction.”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The last thing teachers and heads need right now is the spectre of Ofsted, which has been of neither use nor ornament throughout the pandemic. It is sadly part of their DNA to criticise rather than offer solutions or real help.
“The best thing inspectors can do right now is offer their services, either as additional teachers or to supervise daily testing of those who will still be attending their school or college during this period of lockdown.”
Addressing the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Williamson confirmed that children who do not have access to technology are seen as vulnerable and can attend school in-person during the national lockdown.
Government guidance says vulnerable children may include “pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home (for example due to a lack of devices or quiet space to study)”.
Speaking to PA on Tuesday, Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust, which has 53 schools across England, said heads were preparing for a greater number of pupils to attend school due to the guidance on remote education, as well as a higher demand from parents who are key workers.
The Department for Education (DfE) has said it expects schools to have a digital platform, such as G-Suite or Microsoft Education, and they should provide at least some of their remote provision via video lessons.
The DfE will publish updated guidance for schools regarding remote education – including increasing the number of hours schools are expected to provide.
Ofsted will carry out inspections in the spring term of schools most in need of challenge and support – which will have a strong focus on remote education.
The watchdog can also inspect schools of any grade where it has significant concerns about the quality of remote education being provided, the DfE said.
An Ofsted spokesman said: “While schools and colleges are closed to most pupils, education remains a national priority. There are clear requirements about remote learning and our monitoring inspections this term will focus on how well these are being met, to provide reassurance to parents.
“In addition we will consider any complaints we may receive from parents about remote learning at their children’s schools.”