The Liberal Democrat and Independent Group Education Spokesperson Councillor David Ward has called for detailed plans for the re-opening of schools to be open to public scrutiny.
“The current debate about when and how schools should “re-open” has already developed entrenched positions. It started from a Government-led position of expecting the re-opening of schools for certain groups from June 1st. A growing opposition of “no to that” has developed with Trades Unions and some Local Authorities leading the charge. The two camps are sat facing each other and there seems to be no basis for discussion. A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner suggests that children deserve better.
One thing that seems to be missing from the debate is the obvious point that schools are open and have been all along. I have not heard a single word of protest about what seems to have been accepted as a good thing for the children of Keyworkers and vulnerable children to be allowed to attend schools.
All those who now claim to be deeply concerned about more children attending school, often with dire predictions of the subsequent catastrophe that will ensue, have been silent so far on the accepted principle that at least some children should be going to school. The question now should be, how many more could be going to school safely? The question of “safety” is a difficult one because we have never been here before and the scientific and epidemiological evidence is weak and disputed.
What is not weak and disputed is the evidence that the continuing absence from a school, as a place visited every day and the continuing absence from education as a creator of opportunity, is deeply damaging – especially to those from disadvantaged families. The consequences of the loss of education to children from the poorest backgrounds is well known. It has been found that summer holidays alone account for up to two thirds of the attainment gap between rich and poor children at the age of 14.
Think then about what an impact the current absence from school is having on the estimated 2 million children in the country living in a household where there is domestic abuse, parental substance misuse or parental mental health issues. A far more important debate than whether or not certain age groups should return to school could be taking place on how schools, and indeed other empty public buildings such as youth centres and libraries could be planning in June, throughout the summer and beyond if need be, to support disadvantaged children until normal schooling recommences.
The question that needs to be addressed is how many more children, especially the most deprived and vulnerable, can go back to school – as soon as possible – in a safe way. The opening of all Primary Schools on June 1st is possible, but each school would need to risk assess the number of pupils that can be safely accommodated. Evidence from the experiences of other countries is available and should be looked at. Children from deprived backgrounds, vulnerable children and those with EHCPs should be given priority.
Waiting for the perfect time to “re-open” schools will mean a long wait and some children do not have that time because they have already suffered from school closures and will continue to do so as long as they are missing school. It is not about re-opening schools – many are already open – but about the safe phased return to normal, planning for that should begin today and be available for scrutiny so we can all be assured about the safety of children and staff.”