The remote learning legal duty for schools: unpacking the government’s direction

Last week the government published a temporary continuity direction under the coronavirus act 2020, which states that all state-funded school age children must be provided with “immediate access to remote education” should they miss school due to coronavirus. It comes into force on 22 October and is a legal duty, which has been questioned by some school leaders, who feel that guidance would be more appropriate than a legal directive at this stage.

What does this mean for schools?

Firstly what does the government mean by ‘remote education’? The full good practice guide defines ‘remote education’ within the new legislative direction as:

“education provided to a registered pupil who does not attend at school”

The tenor of the guide is that schools will be teaching online but it does recognise that this may be through either live or recorded lessons, and it also recognises that there will be significant challenges for some students getting access to remote learning. It talks about the use of smartphones and email and of both physical and virtual textbooks.

Recent comments by the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, may be reassuring. She told school leaders that they are not expected to provide a “full on-screen taught programme” for absent pupils. Her remarks were made to an academy trust leaders online conference, reported by Schools Week, and may give schools welcome leeway for manoeuvre in their responses to the situation.

However, there is a clearer steer on content, as a result of this week’s publication by Ofsted of its first snapshot of the pilot ‘visits’ it ran in September. The report covers the findings of 121 pilot visits to schools that volunteered to take part. A key finding that is causing the chief inspector concern is that remote learning was not always aligned to the regular curriculum.

According to Spielman, “If we expect many children to find themselves at home in term time once or even more often this year, for possibly a fortnight at a time, they must not lose the progression that a strong, well-sequenced curriculum brings. Without that structure, remote education becomes more about filling time than about effective learning.”

Potential issues

Digital inequalities
A blind spot in the guide is around digital inequalities (an absolutely critical area that we discuss in more depth, along with strategies schools can use to deal with it, in this blog post). The guide doesn’t have a section that explicitly addresses the sheer reality of the current situation for many schools – that in order to comply, as they were doing in lockdown, they will have to provide packs of resources either to be picked up from school or delivered to homes, with all the practical challenges that entails. 

In addition, the DfE also updated its guidance last week on how schools can access technology to support disadvantaged children who are “otherwise unable to access remote education”. A school that is limiting attendance by operating a rota model or that has fewer than 15 children self-isolating with covid-19 symptoms cannot access free laptops or devices from the government.

Primary pupils and screen time
A further issue is that much of the government guidance seems more geared towards a secondary school audience. It doesn’t seem to take into account the fact that prolonged screen time can be difficult for primary pupils to maintain and is often something parents are already working to avoid, so for some schools this has generated some resistance from parents. While it is possible to plan things that require little to no use of devices, the wording of the guidance is not explicit on this. 

Diversity and choice
More generally, there is a sense that the directive fails to capture the wide range of platforms, tools and approaches that are being used for remote learning in a combination of ways, both synchronous and asynchronous. Take a look at our blended learning resource page and there’s a snapshot of some of the tools that can be used, from simple systems such as Purple Mash to complete systems such as Google Classroom. We’ve seen schools and individual teachers show immense resourcefulness and creativity in using the tools they have access to in putting the core principles of remote learning into practice, such as community, teacher presence, engagement with peers and student/teacher dialogue. 

Since March the context for remote learning / blended learning, has been constantly shifting. It will continue to do so (see our blog post, Back to school: what you need to know about DfE and Ofsted remote learning expectations, from just a couple of weeks ago, for evidence of this!) This changing context, and the diversity of the remote learning landscape, needs to be reflected in the guidance offered to schools.

Join our
mailing list

Sign up for the London CLC newsletter and get the best connected learning news and views in your inbox every week.

Does your school need a sustained programme in the use of digital technology to underpin your whole school aims and plans?

Our support package covers the following:

Professional learning

Teacher professional development which puts digital at the heart of teaching and learning

Pupil workshops

Engaging, practical workshops for your class, in your school, at our Clapham centre online

Creative technology projects

Engaging, immersive educational experiences with corporate and cultural partners

Consultancy & advice

Get tailored support from our expert team of teachers and technologists

Technology loans

Kit for every classroom

Book a call
with James

Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

- 15:30
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.


The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By visiting, you accept our use of cookies.