Before your free school can open, your group is required by law to inform the local community of your plans and allow it to respond to them. This stage of pre-opening can be intimidating at the best of times. We offer our advice in this blog, on how you can confront this critical milestone during COVID-19.
Although opening a free school in the midst of a global pandemic is undoubtedly challenging, pre-opening activities remain deliverable. Furthermore, there’s no need to increase your workload. NSN can say this from experience, having supported Section 10 consultations through the Delivery Programme.
Here are some of reflections on what you need to do to effectively deliver a Section 10 consultation during lockdown:
Virtual events are key
It may seem obvious but virtual events are significant tools at your disposal - they are not necessarily inferior to in-person events. Run a minimum of three events during your Section 10 consultation and you’ll see the hidden benefits of remote stakeholder engagement:
- There were more attendees than expected to virtual events. Members of the public found it much easier to attend these online events, saving time and effort on travelling. We encourage you to offer a variety of times to encourage as much attendance as possible - for example, one event during a week day, one week evening and one during the weekend.
- The consultation survey could be easily shared. The online chat box helps collect as many online survey responses as possible. This saved time later when someone would usually be inputting hardcopy survey results into an Excel spreadsheet one-by-one.
- You can record your virtual events. This saves someone needing to minute the event to record questions and any positive comments made. All of which can be used as evidence in your Section 10 consultation report.
Invest more in social media and advertisements
Take steps to engage with as many members of the public as possible. While you might normally have distributed pamphlets in a busy location such as a shopping centre, until restrictions are lifted, engagement must be delivered remotely. Redistribute the money you’ve saved by not renting a space for events and invest in online adverts.
Be prepared to answer questions about safely opening the school
Even though social distancing restrictions appear to be lifting, expect health and safety to remain a critical concern for many parents considering sending their children to your school. It should also be something you have already considered in preparing for opening as an ongoing risk for dozens of schools. Before your community engagement, familiarise yourself with the latest government guidance on COVID-19. You can make use of NSN’s COVID support page where we have collected key documents and useful links to support schools during a pandemic.
Recognise the challenges of consulting during a pandemic in your report
Your Section 10 report should include a brief narrative to clarify how you have engaged with a broad spectrum of the community in your consultation methodology section. It can be useful to identify the steps you have taken to overcome challenges in consulting brought on by the pandemic.
NSN’s Delivery Programme provides guidance and support for free schools during pre-opening. Our team of Advisers and Specialists offer support and quality assurance of a number of key documents and milestones that make up pre-opening including governance plan support, education brief support, the readiness to open meeting, and your Section 10 consultation.