Schools re-opening and the role of professional education advisers

Schools re-opening and the role of professional education advisers

Prospect national secretary Steve Thomas, who works on behalf of the union’s Education and Children’s Services Group (ECSG) members, reflects on an incredible few weeks for the sector since the Prime Minister’s announcement about schools reopening.

Empty classroom

The Prime Minister's announcement that children in Reception, Year One and Year Six would be returning in the first phase of schools re-opening in England on 1 June was a policy announcement made in haste, and surprised many of the professionals working in the sector.

It has been understandably questioned by school leaders, teachers and parents as well as the TUC education unions. I was proud to add Prospect’s name to the call for the Government to step back from the 1 June date.

Prospect ran a crowd-sourcing exchange to gauge members' views, as well as a survey to support the submission that we are finalising for the House of Commons Education Select Committee.

We asked what the top priority should be for the Department for Education, and many suggestions were made, as you would expect given the breadth of the work our members do. However, by far the most popular comments related to school safety.

You can read a report on our Thought Exchange crowd-sourcing exchange. We think this is a good way of engaging members and it's highly accessible so please do have a look.

Just to be completely clear, Prospect members work extensively with vulnerable and disadvantaged children, to promote inclusion and schools improvement and, despite what you might read in certain newspapers, union members working in education believe that children should be at school, safe and getting the support they need to flourish.

As this week has progressed, a series of local authorities, particularly but not limited to the North of England, have indicated that they do not expect some, most or all schools in their areas to re-open and are advising accordingly.

This BBC Breakfast survey suggests a varied approach to this with others saying that they will leave the decisions up to individual schools; although the DfE guidance does reference the need for local authorities, academy trusts or governing bodies as ‘relevant bodies’ to be signing off plans and be party to those decisions.

I don’t want to comment on each of those local decisions; however, what I will say is that our members know how much professional expertise is needed, whether that is in local authorities or individual Multi-Academy Trust chains to gather, interpret and provide professional advice to school leaders, governors and elected members. That could be using the ever evolving scientific evidence, DfE guidance, Public Health England information, Health and Safety legislation and advice from the Local Government Association (LGA).

The statement by Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board earlier this week that "Councils are keen to support their local schools to get children back as soon as possible. However, the safety of children, their families and staff will always be the top priority" is one that should resonate.

The value of professional advisers, or teams of professional advisers, working to support informed decision-making, practical advice and accountability and, we believe local flexibility, has seldom been more important.

We made these points strongly to the LGA as we entered into pay negotiations for Soulbury members last week.

It was clear how much appreciation those elected members had for officers, and the lead Councillor Roy Perry, (Leader of Hampshire County Council) asked that he and his colleagues’ thanks were passed to our members.

As was discussed at the meeting, Councillor Perry has today written formally to the Secretary of State for Education to praise the work of Soulbury officers which is great to see.

Prospect has seen an upsurge in union membership over the last couple months, if you have education professional colleagues who aren’t union members please encourage them to join.