NAHT Discovery Education Pathway: Back to School

Advice for everyone and a ‘must do’ checklist for school leaders

Welcome to Pathway’s ‘Back to School’ guide for school leaders, teachers and support staff – ‘must have’ guidance and a ‘must do’ checklist that will help shape your focus and effort in the coming weeks and that will support you during the autumn term and beyond.


But first, take a moment for yourself

Whilst now is a time for strong leadership, it’s also a time for clarity of purpose, for a calm and proportionate approach to returning to a ‘new normal’, for measured and informed decision-making.

Parents want to know and feel confident that you have their children’s backs, staff want to know that they’ll be heard and that their well-being will be prioritised, pupils want to get back to a sustainable routine with which they were once familiar and you want to lead, and be seen to lead the school back to a better place – where children feel safe to learn, where there’s a sense of community and where difference doesn’t matter.

Now, we all know that school leaders like to be in control and get things done but please remember, there’s no post-pandemic blueprint for what to do and how to do it, so, my appeal to you is to take a highly pragmatic approach, pace yourself, draw on your professional experience and take wise counsel.

Pathway will build on this guidance to enable you, to not only navigate the autumn term, but to continuously build on your professional practice and ensure that you can continue to develop your capacity and your agency well beyond the recovery period.

A summary of what you’ll find as you read through this guidance and checklist for a ‘softer landing’ in September and beyond:

  1. COVID-19 guidance
  2. Safeguarding
  3. Leadership & governance
  4. Curriculum & assessment
  5. Inspections
  6. Parents
  7. Pupils
  8. Human Resources
  9. Admin & Finance
  10. School planning calendar [the ‘checklist’]
  11. COVID-19 guidance for schools in September


Schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will reopen to pupils at the beginning of September after the summer break.

The government has published its guidance on the reopening of schools here, and for special schools, here

This guidance applies to all schools in England, including:

  • primary schools
  • secondary schools (including sixth forms)
  • special schools, special post-16 providers and alternative provision
  • 16 to 19 academies
  • infant, junior, middle & upper schools
  • boarding schools

If you have a query about coronavirus [COVID-19] relating to schools in England, please contact the DfE coronavirus helpline on 0800 046 8687 [open Monday – Friday 8am to 6pm and weekends 10am to 6pm]. If you work in a school or college, please have your unique reference number (URN or UK PRN) available when calling the helpline.

For Wales, there is separate guidance here and for Northern Ireland, here

  1. Leadership and governance

In 2020, the National Governance Association published an information bulletin for Governing Boards on the recommended function of governance and governors’ roles in the lead up to, throughout and beyond the pandemic in schools. Simply click here to read the bulletin.

Governing Boards should be aware of some of the items that will need to be reviewed at the first governing board meeting of the academic year:

  • Election of Chair and Vice Chair [if either term of office has come to an end]
  • Signing of the Code of Conduct
  • Completion of Pecuniary Interest Forms
  • Agree Committee Structure, Membership and Terms of Reference
  • Agree Governor designations and areas of responsibility
  • Set up Pupil and Staff Discipline Panels and an Exclusion Panel
  • Review Instrument of Government
  • Set dates of meetings for the new academic year


  1. Safeguarding

Keeping Children Safe in Education

The latest version of ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ has been released and can be accessed here. This guidance will came into force on the 1 September 2021.

Sexual violence and sexual harassment

The Department for Education has also updated its sexual violence and sexual harassment advice, which is also effective from 1 September 2021.

Regulated activity

Regulated activity is work that a barred person must not do. This statutory note applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland and provides information on the scope of Regulated Activity in relation to children.


  1. Curriculum and assessment

When it comes to the curriculum, NAHT has been clear that the planning and sequencing of the curriculum is the responsibility of schools, not the government. With that in mind, any efforts to help schools with developing their curriculum to support remote learning must remain optional and not interfere with the successful practices schools have already developed. The guidance to help you plan the implementation of RHSE can be found here

The DfE took on board NAHT’s views that schools need the flexibility to have time to prepare and implement statutory RSHE – you can find the DfE guidance note here

The guidance gives more detail, including on the approach Ofsted will take, but in essence:

  • The DfE wants to reassure schools that they have flexibility over how they discharge their duty within the first year of compulsory teaching
  • Schools who assess that they are prepared to deliver teaching and have met the requirements set out in the statutory guidance were encouraged to begin delivering teaching from 1 September 2020, or whenever is practicable to do so within the first few weeks of the new school year.
  • Schools that assess that they have been unable to adequately meet the requirements, because of the COVID-19-related lost time and competing priorities, should aim to start preparations to deliver the new curriculum and to commence teaching the new content no later than the start of the summer term 2021
  • As the subjects will be compulsory from 1 September 2020, the new parental right to withdraw provision will apply.

In the meantime, schools should continue with their existing programmes of PSHE.


Reception Baseline Assessment

In response to the 2017 primary assessment consultation, the government announced plans to introduce a statutory reception baseline assessment (RBA) in the autumn term of 2020. However, due to the challenges faced by schools because of COVID-19, the statutory introduction of the RBA has been postponed to the beginning of the autumn term 2021.

In short, the RBA will be statutory in schools from September 2021. Full RBA details can be found here

Further information about the RBA can be found in this short and very useful information leaflet

Performance data and accountability for 2021/22

The DfE has published accountability arrangements for the 2021/22 academic year for primary school statutory assessments, and for KS4 and post-16 qualifications

Key stage 4 and 16-18 performance measures will be published on school and college performance tables using the normal suite of accountability measures, as far as that is possible. NAHT is deeply concerned by this decision, as the extent of disruption to children and young people’s education has varied considerably during the pandemic, which will make comparison of performance data between schools relatively meaningless.

Data from primary school tests and assessments will not be published in key stage 2 performance tables in the academic year 2021/22. However, the data will be calculated and shared with primary schools, academy trusts, local authorities and Ofsted. NAHT’s view is that any data is likely to be highly unreliable and should not be used to hold schools to account.


  1. Inspections

Shortly after schools reopened in March, the Education Secretary confirmed his request that Ofsted step up its inspection programme over the summer term, with a view to returning to a full programme of inspections from September 2021.

During the summer term, the majority of Ofsted’s activity will continue to be lighter-touch monitoring inspections, as have been in place since January, with a fuller inspection only taking place where there has been a clear improvement from a current ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’ rating, or where there are serious concerns, particularly in relation to safeguarding.

This approach balances the needs of parents and carers to have confidence that standards are being met, alongside schools’ and the wider education sector’s continued prioritisation of their students’ recovery from the impact of the pandemic.

The Department is expecting schools and other settings to be returning as quickly as possible to a full breadth and depth of provision, whilst considering additional interventions that need to be put in place to meet students’ needs in light of the pandemic, for example around attendance or behaviour policies that support young people to quickly re-engage with education. This will be particularly important in helping students who have fallen behind to receive academic and pastoral support, which can only happen when students are in regular attendance at school or college.

Ofsted’s School Inspection Handbook for 2021 has now been published – click here to access it.

  1. This handbook describes the main activities carried out during inspections of maintained schools and academies in England under section 5 of the Education Act 2005. It sets out the evaluation criteria that inspectors use to make their judgements and on which they report.
  2. This handbook is primarily a guide for inspectors on how to carry out school inspections. However, it is made available to schools and other organisations to ensure that they are informed about the processes and procedures of inspection. It seeks to balance the need for consistency in inspections with the flexibility required to respond to the individual circumstances of each school. This handbook should not be regarded as a set of inflexible rules, but as an account of the procedures of inspection. Inspectors will use their professional judgement when they use this handbook. It applies to school inspections carried out from September 2019 under the education inspection framework (EIF).
  3. The handbook has 3 parts:
  • Part 1. How schools will be inspected: This contains information about the processes before, during and after the inspection
  • Part 2. The evaluation schedule: This contains the evaluation criteria inspectors use to make the graded judgements about schools and includes examples of the kinds of evidence and activities used by inspectors to make their judgements
  • Part 3. Applying the EIF in different contexts: This contains guidance on how to apply the EIF in specific contexts and provisions.


  1. Parents

Like most school activities, returning to school will be a team effort and will involve all the school’s stakeholders – parents, pupils, staff, governors and so on. Reaching out to and communicating with these groups is critical – the key is not to miss anyone out!

For example, school leaders will, in all probability, want to write to parents setting out what their children are likely to expect when they return to school, staff are likely to welcome regular staff meetings to discuss the arrangements for teaching and supporting pupils in the first weeks of school, governors will need to be briefed on the school’s return to work arrangements and the school’s suppliers [e.g. catering, gardening, security] will need to be informed of the back to school plans to ensure that they are able to play their part in supporting schools reopen.


  1. Pupil behaviour

Predicting pupil behaviour, when routines have been so stop-start throughout the pandemic was always going to be a bit of a lottery! All schools, however, will have a Pupil Behaviour Policy and this will continue to be the ‘go to’ place for dealing with most cases of handling pupil behaviour – most, if not all school Pupil Behaviour policies, won’t need any significant modification.

It may, however, be prudent to draft, agree and add an appendix to the Pupil Behaviour Policy that recognises that most pupils will not have had a consistent attendance or learning routine in place for some time and are simply out of the daily habit and routine of attending school and learning in a more structured and formal setting – this may, it could be argued, impact on their attention span, their ability to deal with distractions and, ultimately, on their behaviour.

The behaviour of many children will not have changed at all, the behaviour of some may have been affected in some way or another [for example, they may have experienced bereavement for the first time in their lives] and the behaviour of [likely to be] a minority may or will have deteriorated. All this said, changes in pupil behaviour are very likely to have been caused by their time away from school – in other words, for a great many children, the changes in their behaviour are likely to be absence-related and, it could be argued, that now that all children are returning back to school once again, pupil behaviour is likely to improve as children settle back into their usual routines, re-establish their friendships and return to their familiar patterns of daily activity.

Against this backdrop, schools may want to exercise some flexibility and pragmatism in dealing with pupil behaviour over the autumn term, notwithstanding the measures that may be necessary to safeguard children in the school’s care. The rights to discipline, sanction and exclude have not been abolished, but it’s a matter of balance – for example, if a child misbehaves and it is their ‘first offence’ and not particularly serious, there is every likelihood that with a little more time and guidance, the child will quickly settle into a familiar routine again. More serious offences will, in all probability, need to be very carefully considered in the context of a prolonged absence from school, the [perhaps unknown] impact of COVID-19 on the offending child and the likely effect of a disciplinary sanction. Professional counsel is advised in these particular cases.

In summary, it’s difficult to predict how the behaviour of children will be in the autumn term but all children will have been affected by COVID-19, whether or not they attended the school throughout lockdown. School leaders and teaching and support staff will need to be and remain vigilant throughout the autumn term to spot the behaviour ‘red flags’ and to act quickly, calmly and proportionately to the incidents as they arise. It would be prudent to deal with each matter as promptly as possible to prevent any prospect of escalation and to get underneath the cause of the unacceptable behaviour and determine a plan of action to resolve matters.

Finally, it would be prudent for school leaders to assign more resources to be prepared for and to deal with behaviour-related incidents – an INSET day may be an appropriate opportunity to raise awareness of pupil behaviour issues and agree the approach the school is going to adopt – this can then help create the behaviour policy appendix.


  1. Human Resources

Performance management and appraisal

The DfE’s guidance states that performance management requirements remain in force and it expects schools “to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances”.  The DfE goes on to state “schools must ensure that teachers are not penalised during the appraisal process or in respect of any subsequent pay progression decisions as a result of partial school closures, where this has impacted on the ability of the teacher to meet fully their objectives”.

The same guidance makes it clear that there should be no detriment to individuals on the grounds that it is likely to be the case that performance management plans, agreed and set for teachers and leaders at the beginning of the 2019/2020 academic year, will have been adversely affected by the inability of individuals to work towards their objectives during a substantial part of the performance management cycle.


Pay progression

On 21 July 2021, the School Teachers’ Review Body [aka the STRB] released their 31st report. There will now be an 8 week consultation, which NAHT will be responding to, both individually and with the other teaching unions.

Here are some of the key points made by the STRB:

  • In line with the recommended public sector pay freeze and the remit set by the Secretary of State, the STRB has only recommended a consolidated pay award of £250 for all teachers earning less than £24,000 (or less than £28,681 in London). They also recommend that advisory pay points be reintroduced on the unqualified teachers’ pay range for 2021/22
  • The experience of the 2008 recession suggests that improved recruitment numbers may be relatively short-lived as the wider economy recovers; teacher retention remains a pressing concern
  • We are firmly of the view that a pay pause for teachers of more than one year risks a severe negative impact on the competitive position of the teaching profession
  • We would also support a review of the existing leadership pay framework, including the factors determining pay for school leaders, the issue of pay differentials between the teacher and leadership pay ranges, and the leadership roles covered by the pay structure
  • Our wider assessment of earnings across the profession continues to indicate that teachers’ median earnings fall below those of comparators in other professional occupations.


Restructuring and/or redundancy

It is held that it may not have been possible for schools to fulfil consultation requirements associated with restructuring and the possibility of having to make redundancies in the 2020/2021 academic year. Schools are urged to pause all such procedures until they are operating normally again.

Disciplinary, capability and ill-health procedures

In a similar vein, it may not have been possible for schools to meet the timeframes associated with a fair process for disciplinary, capability and / or ill-health procedures. Again, it’s held that it’s reasonable to postpone such processes until such time as schools and their employees have re-established normal daily routines and working practices.


  1. Admin and finance

The Academy Trust Handbook 2021 [previously known as the Academies Financial Handbook] was published on 16 June and will come into effect on 1 September 2021.

The full changes to the 2021 edition are outlined on page 9 of the handbook, including new information about:

  • trusts’ existing obligations in relation to safeguarding, health and safety and estates management
  • cybercrime
  • external reviews of governance
  • renaming the financial notice to improve (FNtI) to notice to improve (NtI)

The digital-version of the 2021 handbook will be made available on 1 September 2021.

NQT induction funding

Following pressure from NAHT and others, the DfE has announced it will provide funding equivalent to an additional 5% time off timetable in 2021/22, for all teachers who complete their NQT induction this summer. This is a one-off, non-statutory payment that can be used to support the development of this cohort of teachers, whose first year has been disrupted by the pandemic. The funding can be used flexibly.

  • Time off timetable can be grouped together in different ways, for example, taken as whole days or half days
  • Schools will be able to access DfE-accredited development materials based on the Early Career Framework for this cohort to use during this time off timetable
  • Schools will receive this funding in summer term of 2022. Funding will be based on School Workforce Census returns.


Sport & PE premium update

Following lobbying by NAHT and other organisations, the government has confirmed that the PE and sport premium for primary schools will continue in 2021/22.

The government has also said that schools who have not been able to spend sport premium funding received in either 2019/20 or 2020/21 will not face any clawback next year.

The government’s guidance now states:

“Any unspent funding at 31 July 2021 can be carried forward into the 2021/2022 academic year. This applies to funding from the 2020 to 2021 academic year, and also to any carry over funding from the academic year 2019 to 2020. All funding carried forward into the 2021 to 2022 academic year must be spent by 31 July 2022.”


Asbestos management in schools

The DfE’s Asbestos Management Assurance Process [AMAP] portal will reopen across the summer break and will remain open until 29 October 2021, to allow schools to complete or submit any outstanding information.


  • School Planning Calendar

And, now let’s turn our attention to the day job – set out below is simply a reminder of the types of activity that will need to be reflected in the autumn term calendar and event diary:

  • INSET days
  • Plans: School Improvement Plan; School Self-Evaluation Form; Ofsted-ready plan
  • Induction of new staff
  • Parents’ evenings and PTA events
  • Governing body meetings (and the head teacher’s report for them!]
  • Staff appraisals
  • Census days and return deadlines [2021/22 dates can be found here]
  • Single Central Record review / safeguarding training
  • School trips / educational visits
  • Health and safety walkabout, first aid, accident and medical records review
  • Open days / national campaign and international days of remembrance
  • Staffing and budget review
  • Premises review
  • Asset register
  • Website review
  • Christmas play and other religious festivals
  • Bank holidays [Spring bank holiday is 2 June, followed by the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday on 3 June]*

*The Spring bank holiday moves from Monday 30 May to Thursday 2 June and is then immediately followed by the bank holiday to commemorate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on Friday 3 June.


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