The largest education union in Europe has said it is “unacceptable” for Ofsted inspections to be taking place during the coronavirus pandemic.
The National Education Union said Scotland and Wales had “shown England the way” after Estyn, the Welsh education inspectorate, announced it was suspending inspections until further notice.
It comes ahead of talks between the Education Secretary, unions and school leaders, where they are expected to discuss the implications of schools being closed and exams being postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The National Education Union has written to Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman calling for inspections to cease as COVID-19 spreads.https://t.co/PTeIgNAMGK— National Education Union (@NEUnion) March 15, 2020
Gavin Williamson is due to meet representatives from the NAHT school leaders’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) on Monday afternoon.
Estyn’s chief inspector, Meilyr Rowlands, said on Monday that all inspections and other related activities are to be suspended until further notice.
She said halting inspections would allow staff to “focus fully” on the well-being of their pupils, staff and families.
School inspections have been halted in Scotland until the Easter break to allow teachers to focus on their staff and students, a spokesman for Education Scotland said.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, welcomed the plans and said “Scotland and Wales have shown England the way” in ceasing inspections.
“It is unacceptable for Ofsted inspections to be taking place at a time of national emergency,” she said.
“School leaders and staff are straining every sinew to support and protect their students.
“They should be allowed to focus on this, not have their stress made worse by the threat of an imminent Ofsted inspection.”
On Sunday, Dr Bousted and joint general secretary Kevin Courtney urged Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman to cease routine inspections in England.
In a letter, they said they were “very concerned” that Ofsted was still planning to conduct inspections amid the coronavirus outbreak.
They said: “We have to ask the question – can you name any school in England which has not been affected by Covid-19?
“Even if there are no reported cases in schools, all leaders and staff are highly alert and responding to a range of pressing concerns and issues about the management of Covid-19, all of which involve changes to school routines and an intensification of already excessive workloads.”
They noted the Scottish inspectorate’s decision, and added: “We urge Ofsted to take the same course of action – suspend school inspections now so that school leaders can focus on what is important, not what is immediate.”
Ahead of Monday’s meeting with Mr Williamson, CST chief executive Leora Cruddas said teachers are working in “extremely challenging circumstances” during a “very fluid situation”.
“It is important to understand that all the big decisions about school closures, exams and the suspension of inspections can only be made by the Government,” she said.
“CST’s top priorities, in addition to seeking clarity on these big decisions, will be about the arrangements for safeguarding and welfare of our children and young people, and in particular the most vulnerable.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said he would be raising with the Education Secretary the challenges of keeping schools open amid staff shortages, and the potential for disruption during exam season.
He said: “We aim to work through these issues in order to arrive at constructive solutions about the way ahead.
“School and college leaders are showing calm and assured leadership in these difficult times and we can reassure the public that everything that can be done to support young people will be done.”
Ahead of the meeting, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said that although teachers are concerned about the impact on exams and assessments, the “main priority” is keeping children safe.
He said: “For some children a day at school is a place of sanctuary and nourishment as well as a place of education.
“Once the immediate issues are under control, I am confident that school leaders and their teams will do all that they can to support children and young people throughout the remainder of the crisis.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that closures now could do “more harm than good”, hours after Ireland announced that schools and colleges would close for a fortnight.