I am sorry to have to interrupt your school holidays, but thought it important I write to you.
I am sure you have seen and read the recent IfG, University of Cambridge and University of London research and reports. They were damning of the Department pointing out numerous failures and areas where we could, and should have done better. Many of you will have formed strong opinions based on reading these documents and I agree with you.
I must point out, there were successes. I remain proud of our laptop delivery and the fact we were able to keep children in school who would enable essential personnel to be able to continue to go to work. However, in the vast pool of issues, problems and politics these are scant consolation. There have been many areas where we need to fundamentally assess our views and see how we can improve further. This must be done swiftly and rigorously. We owe it to the children and school staff.
The amount of u-turns were unacceptable and only caused more stress, worry and work for an already exhausted workforce. Beginning with guidance, we should have been clearer, we should have been more transparent on delays and timings and the reasons behind them. We should have ensured information was completely accurate before releasing it to schools for them to act on. We should have explained why things were been done the way they were and given evidence to support it. Our intentions were to give you the tools to keep your schools, pupils and workforce safe. At a time when clarity and ease of use was essential, we let you down. The redrafts and updates, were admittedly, poorly handled and communicated badly. We should have made it easier for you to find changes to guidance or released key changes as a separate document. We should have told you things before we told the media giving you time to plan properly before hearing it and being questioned on it from another source rather than directly from us.
Whilst preparing for a second set of school closures was something that nobody wanted to do, it was something we should have done. We directed schools to make plans for further closures, but did not do it ourselves. This is something that must be, and will be, rectified going forward taking advice and inout from school leaders across the whole strata of school demographics. Exams are just another example where flawed thinking and lack of foresight has hampered the people we are all interested in helping the most – the children. To not have a written and thought out plan for what would happen with exams and assessment in the event of further school closures, was inexcusable. However, one of my largest regrets was suggesting parents should complain to Ofsted if they were unhappy. The deluge of praise that Ofsted received proved how I misjudged this situation and the mood of the nation. Secondly, the Department should never have threaten legal action against schools who were merely trying to keep their children safe.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I will not rely on this to form any excuse. We should have done better. While, during the first period of school closures, there can be some mitigation for short notice and hastily arranged guidance and procedures, this mitigation can only be minimal. As a department it is our job to support schools and help them to functions as easily and efficiently as possible and our failure to have contingency or even initial plans in place to combat wide-scale school closures significantly affected our ability to do that.
Our job is to lead on education, to support a profession that gives it’s all to the children in their care. That we were unable to do this initially is a regret, and that we were unable to do so effectively subsequently makes the success that schools achieved throughout the pandemic even more remarkable. Over the last 18 months we have been unable to do so effectively and for that I am truly sorry.
I am sorry for the extra work we caused, for the extra concern, worry and sleepless nights. I am sorry we could not support you better and plan better for you to help you when you needed it most. It is not underestimated how much the work of schools has done to mitigate the failures of areas of government during this time. For this I thank you unreservedly.
I accept there are many bridges to be rebuilt and much trust to earn back. I ask, and am hopeful, that this apology will go someway towards beginning this process. I sincerely hope you enjoy the rest of your summer break and return to school refreshed and rested for another year of doing what make us at the Department so proud of you all – positively affecting all children across the country.