At one minute past midnight this morning, the latest educational continuity direction came into force. It will remain in force (unless revoked) until one minute to midnight on 12 March 2021. It may well be formally reviewed at some point prior to that.
As before, the main substance of the direction remains the same (most schools are mostly closed for most pupils), so I will just concentrate on the differences. This time round, the big difference is the provision of in school education for P1-P3 and (on a more restricted basis) S4-S6.
- having made it clear in the previous direction that education authorities are not required to make provision of remote learning or of education and childcare to those who qualify, outwith normal term time, a further clarification is made here that this is not required on in-service days either;
- the direction introduces a further exception allowing schools to be used for the facilitation of a Covid-19 testing programme;
- the direction requires education authority nursery schools and nursery classes to reopen as of 22 February, and for P1 to P3 pupils to return to education authority schools on that same date;
- in exceptional circumstances, older primary pupils will be permitted to return, where they are in a composite with children in the P1-P3 age range, and there is no reasonable alternative (this might occur with very small schools, I think);
- for pupils who are in S4-S6, attendance at school is permitted, where necessary for the completion of practical work required for national qualifications;
- in the meantime, staff are allowed to access schools in order to plan and prepare for the above partial re-opening of schools;
As before, the legal disregards apply (including additional support needs duties and deadlines), but the guidance remains strong on the limited circumstances in which they apply. “It is therefore the continued expectation that authorities deliver against these duties, to the extent that they are not prevented from doing this because of the Direction.” It even goes so far as to suggest that education authorities “will also wish to take their own legal advice in relation to their duties in light of the Direction.”