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Education Bulletin - 19 November 2020

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Updated 20 November 2020

Important contact details

Children's Service general queries

General Covid-19 queries to the Local Authority


Message from Judith

Dear colleagues

The wild and windy weather seems to be mirroring the twists and turns the school system is having to manage with cases rising in schools and many of you managing the disruption on a daily basis. The good news is that we may be starting to see some stability in the number of cases across the city, although it is too early to confirm and the pressure on all statutory agencies remains very high. As we have observed since April however, the strength of our system to demonstrate resilience and collaborate is really notable.

Today we welcomed DSL colleagues to the virtual termly meeting: if you were not able to attend please see the slides on the 'Essential Information for Schools' site. It continues to be a priority to identify any pupils at risk and, as you know, we have continued to monitor and track the attendance of vulnerable pupils and identify needs. Please make sure that information and concerns come through to us or the Gateway as appropriate.

CATERed have included an update in the Bulletin for those of you who are part of this cooperative: in addition I'd like to mention that the CATERed Board still have vacancies for Headteacher Directors. Please contact Brad (or myself before 30/11) if you want more information about this important and rewarding role. We'd be happy to talk you through what is involved and the experience you gain.

The Winter Grant project group is up and running and we will shortly be proposing how we think the holiday meals scheme can work for FSM pupils. Please look out for this information as all schools with FSM pupils will be involved and receive an element of the grant to support FSM eligible families over the Christmas period. We will need to know whether you will be using this to purchase vouchers or you believe a healthy food parcel is preferable. Contact will be made with you as soon as possible to firm up the detail. Currently we are continuing to promote registration for FSM so that all families who are eligible can access the support.

Finally from me - it really is finally from me!

This week Ming Zhang has joined the Council as Service Director for Education, Participation and Skills. I want to welcome him and I know he is trying to meet as many of you as possible over the next few weeks and months. Thank you all for supporting the children and families of Plymouth as you do: I will miss the pleasure that comes from seeing improvements in outcomes and life chances for children and young people. I'm looking forward to a rest though and wish you all well.

Update from Regional Education Leads Network

(attended by the RSC and DfE Regional Delivery Lead):

Attendance: Nationally there has been a significant dip in school attendance in the past two weeks. The feedback from schools suggests that the causes include pupils being sent home due to Covid related concerns and staff shortage.

Exclusion: There is no marked change in the rate of permanent exclusion so far this term with many local areas experiencing a reduction. However, there is an increase in fixed-term exclusion, mainly for breach of Covid related rules.

End of term and Christmas holidays: Schools and their representative groups have been talking to the DfE about the end of term. While being mindful of additional burdens on leaders in relation to track and trace during the holidays, the DfE has said that there are no plans to ask schools to change their Christmas holidays or close early this term.

Latest updates from Public Health

Please be sure to read the letter and November updates from Public Health - they contain important information for all schools and settings managing this second lockdown, especially as we are seeing the number of Covid cases in the city rising. Should schools have any questions linked to this information, please email:

Head teacher Teams meeting

The weekly Head teacher Teams meeting is an opportunity to discuss matters arising with colleagues or to address specific themes. The meeting is open to all headteachers, primary and secondary, in academies and maintained schools. The next meeting is scheduled for Monday 23 Monday at 1pm.  Those of you who join the meeting regularly will already have the link in your diary.  If you wish to join please use the link below:

Join the Microsoft Teams Meeting

Sessions are recorded and can be found on the 'Essential information for schools' web page

Next Monday's Agenda: Plymouth City Council COVID communications plan: review of education key messages.

Monitoring of vulnerable children

Over the last seven months efficient partnership working has enabled to us to monitor and risk assess the needs of vulnerable children together. The mechanism of updating and sharing key risk assessment information, and regular discussions between schools/settings, key staff from the LA and families has provided us all with a holistic and dynamic understanding of the position for individual children so that we can plan together if additional support is required. Thank you for your commitment and hard work in supporting this. The information you have provided has enabled us to have a clearer picture of need across the city.

Now that we are in the second wave of the pandemic it is important that we plan together to ensure we are able to continue this monitoring in a coordinated way. Whenever possible we want to make sure that any information we are asking you to provide is streamlined and avoids duplication. We also want to ensure that we are clear of the purpose for gathering the information. We know that the data is helpful but more importantly we want to identify current and emerging needs for individuals and also for school settings as a whole.

At present school attendance data is gathered via the DfE portal, and there remains a daily oversight of numbers of children in school and those absent awaiting tests/required to self-isolate. The Education Welfare Officer linked to your school will be providing support where there are concerns about attendance. In addition to this, schools/settings are receiving weekly updates identifying the CYP who are open to children's social care so that any concerns regarding these children can be discussed with their social worker. Virtual School are monitoring Looked After Children and teams within the SEND service are providing consultation and support for CYP with SEND both those at SEN support and those with an EHCP.

The current processes are working well but we need to consider whether particularly for the CYP with EHCP's the information we are gathering is:

  • Specific enough to individual children
  • Timely - are updates received frequently enough to identify emerging concerns
  • Whether we are asking the right questions - what information do we need and why?

Therefore, using a similar process as in April we are proposing that a spread sheet will be sent to each school/setting/post 16 provider. For each school the CYP with EHCPs will be pre populated and each school will be asked to complete and update the spreadsheet on a monthly basis. The spreadsheet will have key questions (with drop downs) related to attendance and attainment. Each month the spreadsheet will be sent back to the LA and teams within EPS will then use this information to identify whether further support is required.

We are planning to send all schools/settings the spreadsheet by the end of next week but wanted to give you 'heads up' prior to it arriving. To help support this process we are planning a couple of online sessions where you will be able to ask any questions - dates and times will be provided to SENCOs directly by the end of the week.  In the meantime if you have any questions please contact

School Attendance

DfE guidance on the national restrictions makes it clear the government is continuing to prioritise the long term future of children and young people so that schools will remain open, and we know how important it is for children and young people to attend school for their wellbeing and long-term development.

We have received feedback from Headteachers about the challenges of pupil absence during the Covid pandemic. The DfE guidance is clear in setting out the expectations placed on schools in relation to coding pupils' absence. It is also clear in setting out the expectations of parents to send their children to school. However, we recognise that many families have a range of individual circumstances which might make the application of the DfE expectations challenging for both parents and schools.  

Headteachers know their families best and if pupils are absent, as always, it is up to schools to decide how to record sessions in the attendance register in line with the Education (Pupil Registration, England) Regulations 2006 as amended, based on the individual circumstances of the child. Parents can apply for a leave of absence, demonstrating why they believe there are exceptional circumstances for taking their child out of school. It would then be for the Headteacher to consider the merits of their application and decide if they agree that the case is exceptional. Every family is different and any exceptional circumstances must be considered on a case by case basis and decisions consistently applied. We would remind Headteachers of the need to ensure that for children who are at home for an extended period of authorised absence due to Covid related issues, there should be a robust risk assessment in place which is regularly reviewed by the school in partnership with the other agencies where necessary.  

Once your school has followed all the usual steps to support parents in getting children into school at this difficult time, please contact your Education Welfare Officer for advice and support regarding individual cases, if you buy in to this service. Like you, we are working tirelessly to support children and families access education, and we are here to support you.

Updates from CATERed

Please see the attached update to this Bulletin from CATERed, setting out the latest citywide contextual information, together with key facts linked to possible short notice adjustments the team might need to make as numbers of staff numbers isolating rise. The update also includes essential guidance on how to access the Weekly Food Parcels for pupils at home.

Social Mobility Foundation - support for secondary schools

The Social Mobility Foundation offers a free of charge Aspiring Professionals Programme, aimed at supporting high achieving year 12 students from low-income backgrounds gain access to universities and professions. Students in Plymouth can apply for either employer insight programmes engaging with a broad range of companies, or APP reach, which includes mentor support linked to the students' chosen career sector, access to all our online career and university resources and invites to university visits where this can be accommodated based on location. Support on APP Reach across all 11 of our career sectors which can be found here and full details can be found on the company website. There is also a contextual offer for care-experienced students available.   

The deadline for applications is Wednesday 16 December. For further details or to discuss options schools should contact:

NSPCC Stay Safe Speak Out campaign

In the last issue we shared details of the NSPCC Stay Safe, Speak Out campaign, and we again attach details with this issue, together with a link to the ChildLine 'Nobody is Normal' campaign.

Erasmus+ and Connecting Classrooms in Plymouth

At these troubled times it is good to know that PTSA have been successful in receiving a large-scale project grant from Erasmus+ to work with schools and organisations in Sweden, Romania and Spain (see project outline attached to this Bulletin). The project is entitled 'The Great Debate' and will build upon the strong foundations of The Plymouth Oracy Project. Initially involving three schools in the city, this project will host professional development and dissemination events to support more schools, with outcomes including best practice guidance on debating and discussion, evidence-informed teaching plans and a teacher toolkit. 

SEND updates

Government updates

Education and childcare settings: national restrictions from 5 November 2020

Guidance updated on out-of-school activities and wraparound childcare, clinically extremely vulnerable children and staff, and extra-curricular activities in schools, and added clarification on when face coverings should be worn.

Providing school meals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Guidance updated to add information on support for clinically extremely vulnerable pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals, the Covid Winter Grant Scheme and the expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme. The content on school food contracts has also been updated.

Safe working in education, childcare and children's social care

Guidance updated - 'What specific steps should be taken to care for children with complex medical needs, such as tracheotomies?' section updated to include guidance on aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) in education and children's social care settings.

Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: 23 March to 12 November 2020

A summary of attendance in education settings from Monday 23 March to Thursday 12 November (excluding out of term dates as data not collected) and early years settings from Thursday 16 April to Thursday 12 November. The data covers England only.

  • Attendance in state-funded schools steadily increased from 87% in early September, to a period of stability of between 89 to 90% from 01 October to 15 October.  After half-term attendance was at 89% on 05 November but decreased to 86% on 12 November.
  • On 12 November, attendance in state-funded primary schools is 90%, down from 92% and attendance in state-funded secondary schools is 83%, down from 87%. The drop in attendance is mainly due to the increased number of pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus.

Catch-up premium: coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find out which schools are eligible, what the funding is for, when payments will be made and how funding can be used to help pupils catch up on missed education.

Guidance for schools during the transition period and after 01 January 2021

Information to help schools prepare for the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Next Bulletin: 26 November 2020

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