Education Planning Group: Schools update... 26 November

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In today's update:

dan barton

Dear Colleagues,

Change is our only constant’, is a phrase we hear more and more regularly at the moment, and this week is no exception in that regard. We will all be spending a lot of time coming to terms with the most recent changes in guidance from central government.

As ever, can I please offer you and all your staff my continued gratitude for everything you are doing every day.

Dan Barton

Assistant Director - Education and Skills

Letter to headteachers from Cllr Sue Sanderson, Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning

Dear All,

As Chair of the Education Planning  Group and Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning I am writing to express our grateful thanks to everyone working in schools at this time.  Having been a primary Headteacher, SEN adviser and Head of a secondary special school for pupils with SEMH I have some understanding but I can only imagine the pressure that you continue to be under and have been since March. I particularly want to thank you all on behalf of the County Council for your professionalism and resilience in ensuring parents and children are supported and the schools keep open where possible. Equally we are aware that some of the issues you still have to face e.g. exam arrangements, absences and Ofsted to name but a few mean this pressure only seems likely to continue...


Autumn term early closure conversation

As you may be aware, there is currently discussion about the potential to close schools early this term to create a ‘circuit break’ ahead of Christmas.

The rationale for this suggestion is understood, and there are number of strong reasons for thinking about this. However, it is clear to me that there is no clear consensus across the system for an early closure of schools.

It is important also to note that neither the Local Authority nor central government have the power to compel schools to open or close. As we know, Head Teachers and governing bodies will make operational decisions around closure in all situations. This is particularly true now, in the event that a school is recommended to close by our public health team, or in relation to decisions about safe ratios, and the partial closures which are sometimes necessary as a consequence of low staffing resilience.
Colleagues will also know that closing schools early would have particular implications for our vulnerable children and for families trying to manage work commitments, and of course all pupils’ education in what has already been a disrupted year. We would also advise schools not to consult parents on potential early closure.

The Local Authority cannot issue a statement therefore in support of early closure. We believe that it is for all of us to continue to implement Government policy which is that schools remain open to pupils until term ends. Of course, any statement that we make on this issue, including this one, defers to our earlier position in June, which is that the governance and decision-making around closure of schools is local and lies with Head Teachers and governing bodies.

A final point here is that decisions which are taken locally with regard to this question, can have a significant impact on other schools, and heads locally, in terms of the pressure which can end up being exerted from the community where decisions do not match with other schools in the locality.

In the absence of further direction to the contrary from central government, schools should therefore aim for closure at the end of term as planned.

Christmas food provision for vulnerable children

Work is progressing at pace to finalise a suitable system to allow provision of free school meals support over the Christmas period. This will sit along wider community level initiatives aimed at families.

There will be further detail in next week's message.

Home to school transport: face coverings

A few issues have been raised regarding pupils failing to wear face coverings on home to school transport without a good reason not to do so. The Council and the transport operators would appreciate the support from schools, parents and carers in reinforcing the requirement for pupils to wear a face covering while on-board home to school transport unless they have a specific exemption. Ultimately the Council will invoke the Home to School Transport Behaviour Policy where there is persistent non-compliance without suitable justification. Any concerns regarding home to school transport provision should be referred to The Council’s home to school transport guidance can be accessed via the link below.

Mental health update

10 things we’ve learned about looking after our mental health during lockdown

The Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have put together some simple pieces of advice based on our key wellbeing messages which has been circulated as a press release, but we have also posted it on our website for wider sharing.

The article can be found here:

Day of social media action – Friday 27th November

We are encouraging our member organisations and supporters to join us next Friday for a focused day of activity on social media to share our key messages of looking after yourself, looking out for others and getting help early, as we approach the end of the national lockdown period. It will have been a hard slog for a lot of people, and the prospect of increased restrictions in some form continuing past 2nd December means that many will be feeling the effects of loneliness, isolation and stress. We would ask you to use our Network campaign toolkit and suggested tweets to post wellbeing advice, tips and signposting to support to your followers, which can be done throughout the month but especially on the 27th so that we can really amplify the messages.

Download our campaign toolkit and graphics from our website:

Consultation: Cumbria Together - time for families of children aged 0 - 5 to have your say!

The past year has been unprecedented for all of us and we are keen to hear directly from families with young children about their lives and experiences during 2020.

A key element of the Cumbria Early Years strategy is listening to the views of families and communities, so today we have launched the ‘Cumbria Together - time to have your say’ survey.

We want to hear from families of young children (aged 0 – 5 years) in order to help us to better plan to meet local family and community needs during 2021. Please help us to reach as many parents, carers and extended family members as possible.

Please share our short survey using the attached flyer, and via social media:

Facebook link -

Keep Fire Safe - Christmas Poster Competition

Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service are asking schools across Cumbria to take part in their Christmas Fire Safety Poster Competition.

Your poster should include a firefighter, fire engine or a fire station and include one of our key safety messages:

  • Test your smoke alarm
  • Don’t overload your electrical plugs
  • Cook safely in the kitchen
  • Celebrating safely at Christmas

All you need to do is send us a photo of your A4 poster to by Thursday 10th December. Posters designed landscape would be preferred so we can display them on our social media channels. The winner will be chosen on Friday 11th December.

The winning designs will be featured on Cumbria County Council’s website and as Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service’s Facebook and Twitter headers for the 12 days leading up to Christmas.

Alongside this we can also offer virtual fire safety talks to school children. Please get in touch with the team via if you would like to arrange a session.

Duke of Edinburgh Awards with a difference

DofE Participants across Cumbria have completed 5,954 hours of volunteering from the end of March to the end of October playing their part in their communities and helping those who need their support. However the pandemic has hit their mental health and wellbeing hard. It’s put their education, social lives and work on hold and, for some, led to increased stress, worry and loneliness.

As the new school year progresses, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award can help young people to focus on themselves and to find ways to use this new-found time in a productive way whilst looking after their mental health.  By further developing the skills and character traits they’ll need, including confidence, resilience and adaptability, to get through this crisis while safely expanding their worlds and standing out in whatever they want to do.

The DofE have been proactive in their approach to addressing any potential barriers that may prevent young people from progressing with their DofE and as a result DofE With A Difference was launched. Some schools in Cumbria initially highlighted that they felt that there was no real point to young people starting their DofE, as they’ll not be able to complete it. The fact is, it’s probably even more important now than in pre-COVID times. DofE helps to give young people structure and purpose, safely introducing them to new experiences so they can develop and grow and, in the future, achieve an award that has currency in a difficult jobs market.

The DofE Certificate of Achievement was introduced during the summer to recognise the commitment of participants who’ve completed their Skills, Volunteering and Physical sections, but simply can’t do their expedition and/or residential right now. There are lots of skills, volunteering and physical activities young people can do at home or whilst socially distancing. They receive a personalised Certificate for this, which gives them a credible accolade which they can put on their CV and it’s also a great talking point for when they go for interviews.

 DofE has created delivery and recruitment toolkits, with lots of resources and templates, to make it as easy as possible to recruit a new cohort of young people this year and to support them through their DofE journey. Your school can make use of the click and play recruitment films and get familiar with the range of general temporary changes, and changes specifically related to the Expedition section, which have been introduced to flex DofE to the new circumstance in which we all find ourselves.

Also, for a limited period of time, DofE are offering for adult leaders to undertake, through the online training platform, the opportunity to complete the Introduction to the DofE or Expedition Assessor Accreditation Scheme courses, at no cost to your organisation. This opportunity is part of the new DofE Resilience Fund, designed to help disadvantaged young people access DofE this year.

There are currently over 40 DofE Centres in Cumbria, of various shapes and sizes, signed up under Cumbria County Councils DofE licence with dedicated school staff giving up their valuable time to help run the Award. We know how much extra demand you all have on your time and our DofE Coordinator for Cumbria, Lisa Hignett is on hand to offer you as much practical support as possible.