Covid-19: Re-opening Schools
The Government put in place strict social distancing, including the closure of schools for everyone except vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, to slow the spread of the virus so the NHS would not be overwhelmed, and lives could be saved. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British people, the UK slowed the spread of coronavirus. Our health system was not overwhelmed – with spare beds, ventilators, and hospital capacity at all times.
The Government has now set out a roadmap for recovery – focusing on not just saving lives, but also livelihoods. However, it is absolutely vital that as the nation do so, we avoid the risk of a second peak that overwhelms the NHS and importantly don’t waste the huge sacrifices the British people have made in lockdown to get the virus under control.
To read the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy in full please click here
It is now almost eight weeks since we asked schools, nurseries and colleges to close to all but a small number of children. During this period the school and childcare workers have been going above and beyond to care for children of critical workers, vulnerable children as well as making sure there are resources available at home for children to learn. As a nation we’re so grateful for what they have done.
Looking forward, the government have been clear that children would only be asked to go back into schools when the five key tests had been met. To clarify, this position has not changed.
The scientific advice is now indicating that the country can now start the planning for a very limited return to schools for some pupils potentially as early as next month.
I know that some people, including parents and teachers, are very anxious about this so I will outline how this will work in practice:
- If the rates of infection are decreasing, then the science suggests that the country can begin to allow children back to school on the 1st of June.
- ·Initially, the Government expect children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school, in smaller class sizes. The ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer, if feasible.
- For older pupils, the Government hopes to get Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year some face-to-face contact with their teachers, to supplement their remote education. It is unlikely that other secondary pupils will return to school before the summer.
This phased return is in line with what other European countries are doing to get their own schools, colleges and nurseries back.
There are some who would like to delay the wider opening of schools. I completely understand these concerns however, it is important to also look at the consequences of this.
The poorest children, the most disadvantaged children, the children who do not always have support they need at home, will be the ones who will fall furthest behind if the government keep school gates closed. They are the ones who will miss out on the opportunities and chances in life that we want all children to benefit from what teachers and schools deliver for them.
Therefore, some children will go back to school on the 1st June. However, I would stress again that this is all conditional on the rate of transmission of the virus coming down, and the scientific advice saying it is safe to do so.
In terms of safety for both school staff and students, the government are asking schools to adopt a number of strict protective measures which include:
· Reducing class sizes
· Making sure pupils stay within small groups
· Rigorous hygiene, cleaning and hand washing.
Full advice for schools regarding safety can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-educational-settings-about-covid-19
It is important to remember that school staff can already be tested for the virus but from 1st June the government will extend that to cover children and their families if any of them develop symptoms. Track-and-trace methods will then be used to prevent the virus from spreading.
Together, these measures will create an inherently safer system, where the risk of transmission is substantially reduced – for children, their teachers and also their families.
The Department for Education has issued full and detailed guidance on how to prepare for wider opening, working closely with the sector and listening to those who work in the classroom. As with all government advice, this will continue to be reviewed and updated along with scientific advice to ensure schools have the support they need.
School Uniform costs
The Government is pleased to support the Private Member’s Bill to ‘make provision for guidance to schools about the cost aspects of school uniform policies’, which was recently introduced to Parliament on 5th February 2020. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring that school uniform costs are reasonable.
It is for the governing body of a school (or in the case of academies, the academy trust) to decide whether there should be a school uniform, what it will be and how it should be sourced. To support them to do this the department issues non-statutory best practice guidance which can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-uniform.
Government guidance clearly states that uniform items should be easily available for parents to purchase and schools should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum. It also states that schools should avoid single-supplier contracts, but where schools do choose to enter into such contracts, they should be subject to a regular competitive tendering process. This makes clear that we expect schools to ensure uniform costs are reasonable.
In August, the Department of Education announced a school funding increase of over £14 billion for primary and secondary schools, in total, over the next three years. The £14 billion means the Department can ‘level up’ school funding by raising the minimum per pupil funding for secondary schools to £5,000 next year, and the minimum per pupil funding for primary schools to £3,750 in 2020-21 and £4,000 in 2021-22.
Average school funding is increasing by 5% in 2020 – a significant increase - and the Department is allocating the biggest increases for the lowest-funded schools. In addition, every school in England can see an increase in per pupil funding at least in line with inflation, with most schools attracting real terms increases.
I feel it is important that the government continue to push for further school funding so that all young people the best opportunities to succeed - regardless of where they grow up or go to school.