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A message from Christine McInnes:

16 September 2021 weekly update

16 September 2021

This week, Christine summarises a very busy week in the education landscape and the extension of our partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation.

Dear Colleagues,

I’ll start with a good-bye to Gavin Williamson and hello to our new Secretary of State for Education, Mr Nadhim Zahawi. Former Schools Minister, Mr Zahawi comes with a reputation for effective organisation, an eye for detail and an understanding of the importance of education as a way to address poverty and inequality. Hopefully, he will bring greater clarity and better support for schools and early years providers, a more ambitious covid recovery plan which includes addressing the achievement gap and SEND reform.

Mr Williamson has made reference to his pride in driving post-16 sector changes. That seems a rather premature claim and time will tell how much of the current White Paper Skills for Jobs will make it into legislation. Whilst many of the reforms are welcome, the current intransigence in addressing concerns about the gap that would be left by discontinuing some key existing qualifications has not been helpful and we hope the change in leadership will also bring a more pragmatic approach. My own frustration with Mr Williamson peaked in January 2020, when, despite extensive intelligence from officers and school leaders to the DfE about the impact of the virus, he determined that schools should open as normal, only to change the policy on 4 January. With everything that happened subsequently, you may well have forgotten that particular ‘holiday’ when school leaders were required to track and trace covid contacts and secondary schools put a complex testing regime in place ready for the beginning of term. So, plenty of opportunity for improvement for Mr. Zahawi.

Two weeks into term and summer warmth and memories are fading fast and a number of you already managing some tricky situations.

All secondary phase colleagues are now considering the roll out of the covid vaccination programme for all 12 to 15 year olds. Anti-vaccination pressure groups are threatening legal action, so it is important to remember that the role of the school is just to host the delivery of vaccinations and to manage some of the administration, in line with other existing vaccination programmes delivered through schools.

The vaccinations are administered by health staff and in the unlikely event that there is a disagreement between parents and their child, this will be resolved by health professionals. Locally health service providers are piloting how this vaccination programme will dovetail with the existing flu vaccine programme roll out, supported by the Area Education Officers.

We are aware that covid infections rates in a number of schools are increasing and a few schools are also managing nonovirus infections. A copy of the most recent Public Health England SE Educational Settings Outbreak Plan which includes template letters and flow charts to aid decision making will be circulated to all schools this week. I am continuing to feed intelligence and concerns through to the DfE to inform ministerial briefings and decision making.

I’m aware from my conversations with schools that good work has, and continues to take place, to ensure that Covid related learning gaps are addressed for children and young people. Thank you to you and your staff for your ongoing work to ensure that Kent children have the best possible opportunities.

In support of this, I’d like to draw your attention to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Guide to Supporting School Planning: A Tiered Approach to 2021. This methodology is a useful model to consider adopting in your own planning as it is underpinned by extensive evidence. The guide aims to support you as school leaders for an unpredictable academic year, which is exactly what we appear to be facing.

It proposes a tiered model that focuses on:

  • Whole-school approaches which support high quality teaching and learning, assessment and feedback and transition support
  • Targeted approaches providing evidence-based intervention programmes where needed
  • Wider strategies tackling non-academic barriers to success in school, such as attendance, behaviour and social, emotional and mental health support.

Many of the featured approaches will be familiar to experienced school leaders. The guide, underpinned by the best available evidence, aims to supplement your expertise by offering handy questions and recent school case studies that can hold up a mirror to existing leadership plans.

We have been fortunate to have a strong, ongoing relationship with the EEF which I’m aware has already benefited many of Kent’s schools. You’ll be pleased to hear that both KCC and the EEF have committed to extending the grant funded opportunities for another year. This means schools can still access the Evidence Based Training programmes and the wrap around support. This training is based on the EEF’s guidance reports, many of which feature in their Tiered Approach for 2021

As part of the ongoing collaboration with the EEF, I’m delighted to announce the EEF’s commitment to designating an Associate Research School in Kent. This is a brilliant opportunity for a school or collaboration of schools with strong evidence-based practice to play an ongoing system leadership role in Kent. There is an information session taking place on Friday 24 September at 8am which I invite you to attend. Part of this role will be to ensure the sustainable impact of evidence-based approaches in Kent.

Strategies will have the most impact if properly resourced and, whilst the government’s response to Sir Kevan Collins’ plans earlier this year led to his resignation, there was an acknowledgement that an appropriate level of funding for education recovery needed to be revisited during the forthcoming Comprehensive Funding Review. Clarity about long term funding will enable effective strategic planning not just within individual schools, federations and Trusts, but also across the county. Although the funding from the EEF and KCC for the EEFective Kent Project is limited, it goes some way to supporting schools to access the strong evidence-based approaches in the Tiered Approach for 2021.

Resilience has never been more important and so I wanted to share some excellent advice that Croydon born rapper Stormzy recently gave primary pupils at Lowther Primary in Barnes. He told them "When I used to lose, I used to cry. I used to get really upset but as I grew older I realised that you need to lose to win. It sounds really silly when you're young but as you get older, I promise you, every time you lose, you learn something and it's going to help you win later." Always good to be reminded of the value of failure and reflection! You can see the full story on the My London website

And I can’t finish without mentioning something else that lifted spirits - the stunning and historic US Open final between teenagers, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez on 11 September. A fantastic performance by Emma and particularly celebrated by pupils at her former primary and secondary schools. Well done Emma and we all look forward to seeing her career unfold.

With all best wishes

Christine McInnes
Director of Education