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Coronavirus: how to respond to opening guidance for September
Your school will be preparing for all pupils to return from September. As a chair, be clear on what you need to know and do to make sure your school’s ready.
This article's for you if you haven't yet scrutinised your school's plans and risk assessments for September – make sure you do this before schools reopen.
Get an overview of what’s changing in autumn here.
Key points to keep in mind for September
We've picked out some key take-aways from our summary which you should bear in mind:
- The government has confirmed it's planning that all pupils, in all year groups, will return to school full-time from the beginning of the autumn term
- Your school leaders should:
- Revisit and update their risk assessments and draw up plans for the autumn term
- Have a contingency plan in case of a local lockdown – your school needs to be able to offer immediate remote education if this happens (as explained in section 5 here)
- Your school leaders may also have an extended provision risk assessment if it wants to resume breakfast and after-school clubs in September
- Your school will probably need to modify its curriculum substantially at the start of the academic year, but with an aim to return to its normal curriculum for all pupils by summer term 2021 – even if your school’s curriculum is modified, it still needs to be broad (as explained in section 3 here)
What do I need to do as chair?
Understand your board's role in reopening
You’re probably aware of this, but we’ve covered it below in case you want a re-fresh.
Although school leaders will be responsible for the operational details of reopening, as a board you’ll need to review their plans. This will include:
- Scrutinising risk assessments to ensure they're robust and based on current government guidance
- Making sure your school works closely with parents, staff and unions to agree the best approaches for your school's circumstances
- Making sure your school coordinates with the LA – for example, regarding transport arrangements, attendance and behaviour
- Making sure agency workers, contractors and others are taken into account along with regular employees. For example, site managers and cleaners may be particularly worried about their own safety so you'll want to know that school leaders have consulted with them about their concerns and addressed them appropriately
- Making sure your school continues to observe its obligations under:
- Health and safety
- Employment law
- The Equality Act 2010
You’ll also need to make sure your board monitors and supports headteacher and staff mental health and wellbeing – (as explained under ‘supporting staff’ in the 'school workforce’ section of the reopening guidance).
If you're in an academy, you'll need to know the lines of accountability running across your trust's plans to reopen – some responsibilities might be delegated to local governing bodies (LGBs).
Get familiar with government guidance about reopening
Below we’ve listed the government guidance to be aware of for September – you don’t need to know the details, but it’s useful to have a general idea of what the various pieces of guidance recommend:
- Guidance for full reopening: schools
- Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings
- Actions for early year and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
- Guidance for out-of-school settings – it's for clubs running during the summer holidays but your school should still find it useful when planning for breakfast and after-school clubs
Decide what expertise you'll need
Whether or not your school got expert input into its last risk assessment (before schools partially reopened), it's worth considering this for your updated risk assessment in light of full reopening (and your assessment for extended provision like breakfast and after-school clubs, where applicable).
Consider asking school leaders to consult with:
- Your insurance provider
- Legal advisors
- HR advisors
- Health and safety experts that specialise in schools, such as SafetyMark or Ellis Whittam (please note, the inclusion of these providers doesn't constitute a recommendation from The Key)
Maintain lines of communication with your school leaders
Your headteacher or trust leaders will be responsible for planning. It's your role to provide support.
You may be asked operational questions at this time. You can and should offer your thoughts if asked, but the final decisions on operational matters will rest with them. These will include decisions on:
- Social distancing
Keep the rest of the board in the loop
Keep them regularly updated on how the planning is going. Keep them informed about:
- What parts of the planning are going well
- What obstacles are arising and how they're being addressed
- Anticipated timelines
Remind them that if they have any questions, concerns or suggestions, they should communicate them to you rather than to school leaders. Communication should remain streamlined to minimise workload and stress for school leaders.
What does the board need to do by the start of the academic year?
Review and scrutinise reopening plans
Once the planning is done and the risks assessed, the board will need to:
- Review planning and preparations – this should include the school’s contingency plan in the event of a local lockdown
- Scrutinise any new or updated risk assessments – including the main risk assessment that will have been updated to cover full reopening, plus the extended provision risk assessment where applicable
- Review policy changes in preparation for reopening. The government is recommending updates/addenda to your:
- Child protection policy
- Behaviour policy
You can do initial reviews at the committee level if it's more efficient. Remember that even if you don't have standing committees, you can set up special committees on an ad hoc basis to handle this temporary increase in workload.
Schedule a full governing board meeting before reopening
At this meeting, you'll need to:
- Have committees report on the results of their reviews
- Approve policy changes
- Challenge school leaders on their preparedness to reopen safely
The purpose of this is to get all challenges and debate on the record, so that you have documented evidence of your decision making.
Our thanks to Jane Owens and Pete Crockett for their input and feedback.
Jane Owens is a chair of governors at primary, secondary and special schools, and chairs a multi-academy trust board. She is a national leader of governance and conducts external reviews of governance across all sectors.
Pete Crockett is a retired special school headteacher who, prior to that, worked as a senior leader and SENCO in mainstream education. He has extensive governor experience, having served on governing boards as a staff, headteacher and co-opted governor. He has particular expertise in SEND, school leadership support and governance.
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