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Education Bulletin - 21 January 2021

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Updated 21 January 2021

Important contact details

Children's Service general queries

General COVID-19 queries to the Local Authority


From Ming Zhang
Service Director of Education, Participation and Skills

Dear colleagues

This week, I have again met many Headteachers, CEOs, Ofsted and DfE officials in a continued effort to make sure that we are all on the same page of our understanding of the current developments. It is evident from the feedback and the DfE data that school leaders in Plymouth are doing a remarkable job in making sufficient school-based provision for vulnerable learners and critical workers' children while delivering a high quality remote learning. The following are the key points of the feedback from me to the questions that schools and settings have raised in the past few days.

Vulnerable Learners and Critical Workers

 Thank you for returning the spreadsheets for vulnerable children who have an EHCP, have a Social Worker and may have welfare concerns. In response to the information you provided, the City Council have re-aligned the resources to help schools to closely monitor these cohorts' engagement in learning and their welfare needs. It remains the advice of the DfE that these vulnerable cohorts and children of critical workers should receive school-based education.

Online Learning

Other pupils are receiving remote learning effectively provided by Plymouth schools. There has been some feedback of emerging challenges that schools are facing in ensuring children's engagement in remote learning due to family circumstances. While I have conveyed this matter to the DfE, Plymouth schools should discuss with their linked Education Welfare Officer cases of persistent disengagement in learning, which are unrelated to device or connectivity.

My conversations with MAT CEOs and Headteachers indicate that there is a clear willingness to share good practice and a strong commitment to peer support in quality assuring remote learning. Plymouth Commission has added remote learning support in their priorities for this term. Dan Roberts, Head teacher of Devonport High School for Boys, which is an EdTec Demonstrator School has offered his support for any schools that request it. Please contact Dan directly if you need to discuss this with him.

COVID situation in Plymouth

Our Director of Public Health Dr Ruth Harrell updated us today that the rates in Plymouth appear to be flattening off - though as yet this is not a clear trend. These rates are the highest we have seen in the city, and the vast majority of schools, Academies and other settings in the city will have been impacted. In terms of age profiles, we are still seeing that children have lower rates than our average figures; we are currently seeing the following rates:

  • 330 overall
  • 63 in 5-9 year olds
  • 111 in 10-14 year olds
  • 273 in 15-19 year olds  (unfortunately we can't separate this out and some of this group will be working, often in low paid and relatively high exposure roles - so rates may be lower amongst those in school).

We have been seeing patterns of spread that are of concern in care homes and other settings where there are more vulnerable people/patients. These signs suggest that we in Plymouth might be dealing with the new variant now. This just means that we have to be even more vigilant - and it might also mean that rates will take longer to fall.

The Education Secretary has announced the pausing of lateral flow testing in secondary schools for daily contact testing. The DfE sent an email to schools early this morning to further clarify that the paused element is related to the tests to enable contacts of a case to return to schools while other tests should continue. There is also an accompanying position statement about this change from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace. Testing of staff is being rolled out to primary schools.

To better understand the rationale behind the DfE's decision, Dr Ruth Harrell added a note on this development: "Whilst using the LFT as a 'red light test' (i.e. if positive, I need to STOP what I would usually do) is appropriate, I was not supportive of the use of these tests to enable contacts of a case to come back into schools because we know that these people are at higher risk, and the tests do not pick up all cases of Covid19. There have been pilots, but the results of these had not been shared with us (and the one I know of found that this was not successful). Many of us DsPH felt the same way and I am pleased to have seen the national response to this to pause this element of the programme. I hope that further pilots might result in a way of getting the benefits of this approach without the risks, but currently I feel that this is the right decision."

Provision for children entitled to FSM (considerations for children with SEND)

Plymouth Parent Carer Voice is our local forum representing parent/carers of children with SEND.  They have shared with us some difficulties faced by some families in making sure their children benefit from the provision for food that is being made for those who are eligible.  We have reviewed the feedback to think about how potentially small flexibilities in our planning could make a big difference for some families.  Families are always encouraged to speak directly to their child's school about their concerns but we know that this can be hard for some for many reasons:

1)    Children with SEND who have specific sensory difficulties or tolerance around food related to their disability or SEND

We are sure that school food providers are able to make adjustments to food parcels to accommodate specific needs, if they are advised of this need.  Please can you check the arrangements for this with your provider, and we would ask that this flexibility can be highlighted to the families of pupils with SEND in your school so that they know this can be requested if needed. It may be that on an individual case basis, you decide to provide a voucher where there specific need is such that any adjustment does not work. For CaterEd schools, we have confirmed with CaterEd that they are able to review requests from families either through the Catering Manager on site or directly through the central team on 01752 977166.

2)    Accessing food parcels where parents are shielding or are unable to collect

We have heard of examples of schools creating flexibility in pick up times for some families with specific issues, or supported with drop offs of food parcels.  There are some families who are very vulnerable due to shielding parents/children or caring for children with additional needs in the home where it is extremely difficult to get out.  There has been feedback from some families who have been unable to collect food parcels as a result.

It may be that Caring for Plymouth can support families where they have no other support to draw on. We have spoken to the team and families could contact them to ask for help.  Caring for Plymouth is a partnership between the Council, Livewell Southwest and a large number of voluntary and community sector organisations that provides a vital lifeline for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to COVID-19.  If families need urgent support, the school or family can call 01752 668000 and ask to speak to the Caring for Plymouth Team.  More information can be found on the Caring for Plymouth website.

For CaterEd schools, the team could arrange for a food parcel to be available in another CaterEd school which may be closer to where a family live.  The central CaterEd Team are happy to be contacted to discuss if this would be a support for a particular family (CaterEd: 01752 977166).

February Half-term

Some Headteachers and CEOs have asked for the DfE to confirm that schools are not expected to open or partially open for half-term. This has been raised by me and many other local areas' education representatives at our regular meetings with DfE. We are waiting for a decision by the DfE.

The amount of the guidance and announcements issued by the Government is significant, with many relevant documents being emailed to schools directly from the DfE. Therefore, from this week, I will separate my weekly message from the attached summaries and updates of the new guidance, which will also be published on the school Covid-19 guidance and advice page of the Plymouth Online Directory

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you and your staff for managing the pressures and challenge so well.

Best regards.



COVID-19 information

Headteacher Teams meeting

The weekly Headteacher Essential Info Teams meeting is an opportunity to discuss matters arising with colleagues or to address specific themes.  The next meeting is scheduled for Monday 25 January 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 Microsoft Teams Meeting

Learn more about Teams | Meeting options

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

Agenda 25.1.21: 

1.     FSM provision for children not in school

2.     Matters arising

HSE spot checks during national lockdown

On 15 January the HSE published a newsletter to inform businesses that spot checks and inspections were to continue during national lockdown and that: This includes all businesses which are continuing to operate with people coming into the workplace during this critical period.

Whilst the specific inspection regime focusing on schools ended in 2020, it is important that schools remain vigilant in the revision of risk assessments during lockdown and continue to engage with the PCC HSW team or your competent person during this period. Plymouth City Council have provided information on HSE visits which can be found at:

If your school is contacted by the HSE then please let Education, Participation and Skills and the PCC Health, Safety & Wellbeing teams know (if we are your competent persons) so that we can provide assistance and guidance in advance of the visit.

Education information

Plymouth PTSA Oracy project

We have contacted all MAT CEOs this week offering a limited number of primary academies an opportunity to be included with PLA maintained schools, in the next Plymouth PTSA Oracy project, at a much reduced cost of £220 per school. Details of the project, including a link to a report highlighting the positive impact on closing the gap brought about by the work, are attached to the Bulletin. We know that engagement with this project will be extremely beneficial to supporting both Oracy and progress in English amongst KS1 children most significantly impacted by recent school closures. Places will be allocated on a 'first come' basis, although if we see interest above capacity, the Local Authority will explore ways of repeating this offer again. For expressions of interest please email   

No EYFS data reporting 2021

As DfE have cancelled statutory EYFS assessments for 2021 there will be no Local Authority moderation this summer and no requirement to submit EYFSP data. However, as schools are encouraged to make best endeavours to use the EYFSP to support transition to Y1, sharing with Y1 teachers and parents, our EY Team are happy to offer advice and support if it is needed.

DfE guidance can be found at: government/publications/eyfsp-coronavirus-disapplication and schools seeking advice can email:

Replacing P Scales

STA have announced this week that the engagement model the assessment tool for pupils working below the standard of national curriculum assessments and not engaged in subject specific study, is expected to become statutory from September 2021, replacing P scales 1 to 4.
Engagement model training is being delivered online until March 2021 and all schools are encouraged to take up training opportunities where they have not already done so. 

Keeping children safe in education

Confirmation of DBS checks on staff employed within the Children's Services Directorate

Please find attached the DBS assurance letter (January '21) which confirms that DBS checks have been completed on the following groups of staff employed by the Council, and these groups have been deemed suitable to work with children and young people. Schools should use this for the Single Central Record.

Reporting racist incidents

We know that racist incidents happen in schools and so The Local Authority encourage schools to respond to, record and report these incidents so that we can provide advice and support to schools where needed. Reporting racist incidents does not necessarily signal a problem in a school, rather, it highlights an active commitment to ensuring racial equality and responding to incidents in a way which positively transforms attitudes.

Children and young people learn best in an environment where they feel safe and respected, and young people tell us that living with racism significantly undermines their self-esteem and impacts on their learning. That is why in Plymouth we have a commitment to tackling discrimination and prejudice, and work closely with local partners to achieve this goal. 

From 2021 we will now send out racist incident monitoring forms to schools three times annually: two weeks prior to the end of each long school term (autumn, spring and summer) and request information returned by the end of term. When we analyse information from schools, we will get in touch if we think that the school might benefit from staff training or advice, and of course, schools can access that support at any time. For further advice or to arrange training please contact

DfE: School and college closures - ongoing PREVENT management

The Channel Team are aware of the challenges for safeguarding children and young people from extremism and radicalisation presented by school closures.  Following the Prime Minister's announcement on 4 January 2021, Channel have updated our advice to school leaders on Prevent management during COVID-19 to reflect current Covid guidance for schools and colleges. This is to provide public facing advice for schools and colleges around Prevent during the restrictions, as well as to further clarify how the vulnerable children definition applies to Channel cases. The blog will be signposted in DfE Covid safeguarding guidance and promoted through our Educate Against Hate social media channels. The team particularly want to highlight that Prevent referrals can still be made using existing referral processes and we want to make clear that the definition of 'Vulnerable Child' is flexible.  The LA and the school should determine whether a pupil on Channel should be allocated a school or college place. For guidance visit:

Government updates

Early years foundation stage (EYFS) statutory framework

The standards that school and childcare providers must meet for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5. Added guidance on the 2021 early years foundation stage profile (EYFSP) assessment and paediatric first aid (PFA) certificate re-qualification training.

Ofsted: coronavirus (COVID-19) rolling update

Ofsted guidance and information relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) for schools, early years, children's social care and further education and skills providers. Updated the 'first aid certificate' section for childcare providers: if you cannot renew your paediatric first aid qualification because of coronavirus restrictions, certificates will be valid until 31 March 2021.

Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings

What all special schools and other specialist settings will need to do during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 'Guidance for special schools, specialist post-16 providers and alternative provision during the national lockdown' updated with information about attendance, recording and remote education expectations.

Consultation launched on 2021 exam replacement

Teachers to determine grades using a range of evidence that reflects students' hard work and ability. Following the cancellation of this year's summer exams, the Department for Education and Ofqual have launched a consultation seeking views on how to award grades in a way that reflects students' performance accurately, recognising the disruption they have faced this year.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): financial support for education, early years and children's social care

Funding and financial support available for education, childcare and children's social care organisations. Added a note to the section on supply teachers and other contingent workers in state-funded schools to make it clear that it is out of date and the procurement notices mentioned are no longer in effect.

Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

This guidance sets out attendance in education settings since Monday 23 March and early years settings since Thursday 16 April. These statistics have been updated with 'Attendance in education and early years settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak - 23 March 2020 to 14 January 2021'.

National free school meals voucher scheme opens to orders

An online service for schools allows is now open which schools to place orders for supermarket gift cards on behalf of parents and carers whose children are eligible for free school meals. The vouchers are worth £15 a week per child and families can receive codes by email to redeem themselves, or as a gift card provided by post, collection or delivery to families without internet access.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): reducing burdens on educational and care settings

Updated list of data collections, services or requests which will be cancelled, paused or will continue.

2021 exams - a bigger disaster than last year?

Social Mobility Commission (SMC) Commissioner and academy vice-principal Sammy Wright asks whether government exams plans in the face of COVID will leave pupils more disadvantaged than 2020.

Laptops and tablets progress data as of 19 January 2021

Information about how many laptops and tablets that have been delivered or dispatched to local authorities and academy trusts. Devices (laptops and tablets) delivered or dispatched to Plymouth City Council or directly to Plymouth-maintained schools since the start of the scheme (not including devices delivered to academy trusts) is reported as 1,562.

Daily contact testing in schools: statement from PHE and NHS TT about next steps (New)

Position statement regarding daily contact testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) in schools from Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace. It is recommended that the rollout of daily contact testing within schools is paused, other than for schools involved in further evaluation.

Admission appeals for school places

These guidance documents will help admission authorities advise those involved with school admission appeals to understand their roles and responsibilities. Changes to school admission appeals due to coronavirus have been extended until 30 September 2021.

Government response to the independent review of TEF

The response from government to the independent review of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF).

Skills for jobs: lifelong learning for opportunity and growth

This white paper sets out reforms to post-16 technical education and training to support people to develop the skills needed to get good jobs and improve national productivity.

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