SOS – Safety 4 Our Schools

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Thanks, Prime Minister. From Monday up to six of you can meet in your garden, but you must maintain a distance of 2 metres.  Meanwhile more Primary school teachers are due in this Monday 1st June, expected to take groups of up to 15 for hours on end, usually indoors (although this may be minimised). This ratio is compared to what the National Education Union thinks is safe and manageable of 1 teacher to 5 students.  The latter ratio is close to what Denmark has been using.

Government’s figures at the press conference on 28th May stated 564,000 people have been infected with Covid-19.  We know that around 10% of this number have died.  Some estimates put excess deaths at above 60,000 across the UK.

Independent SAGE say the risk to school staff, pupils and parents could be halved by waiting two more weeks.  Meanwhile SAGE, the Government’s own scientific body, say that we should be operating a week on, week off system where 50% of pupils go in 1 week, and 50% the next (option 7b).  The National Education Union argues that instead of three year groups, we ought to be sending back one year, for two weeks, to see how schools, pupils, teachers and parents cope before widening school attendance.

To make matters worse, rather than providing a set of timely guidelines and in consultation with schools, the Government have rushed these out at the last minute.  The result is schools are left to draw up health and safety assessments on their own, with little support.  The end result will be a mish-mash of different rules and interpretations, leaving parents, teachers, pupils, management, councils and Government all confused about what is going on.

As a result on Monday June 1st, chaos looms across the week as school staff turn up to work, and find out their situation may or may not be safe.  If it’s not safe, many will legally leave their workplace, citing that it is unsafe to continuing working, throwing schools, parent schedules and pupils timetables into chaos.

To make matters worse, some of those teachers won’t come back.  I already know of more than 10 primary school teachers who have resigned in protest – they have had enough.  Expect more as the Government’s mishandling of schools in this crisis continues, and the teacher recruitment crisis to get worse as a result of this.

Liberal Democrats have prided themselves on following evidence based policy: witness the clear leadership from Kirsty William as Welsh Education Secretary, where schools remain closed to all but the most essential cases. The evidence is clear.  Teachers want to get back to school at teach – when it is reasonably safe.

A two week delay until June 15th would allow schools more time to implement more health and safety measures, more time for the Test, Track and Trace system to be developed, and more time for infection levels from Covid-19 to fall.  Then one year group should be sent back, for two weeks, to see how schools cope.

The Government has made many mistakes on Covid-19.   Making more mistakes with widening access to schools is easily avoidable.

* Simon Foster is a lecturer in Politics and Economics, and has published twenty-five books on Politics, PSHE and Citizenship.

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  • Are any schools actually going back on 1-Jun?
    In my area from what was published yesterday schools are looking to re-open from 15th June 2020 for Year 10 and 12, along with critical worker and vulnerable students.

    However, many do not see this as taking the place of online learning but as a way to better monitor and assess progress. I.e. online learning is going to be part of the new schools environment going forward.

  • Simon Alexander Fost 30th May '20 - 10:55am

    The short answer is yes, Roland.

    The rules are different for primary schools to secondary schools and sixth form/FE.

    The vast majority of schools have stayed open for childcare for children from key workers and vulnerable children right the way through the crisis.

    Year R (Reception), Year 1 and Year 6 (final year of primary) for primary Schools are due to go back on June 1st – this Monday. This goes against the scientific evidence inside and outside of Government, and advice from the Unions, hence my article above.

    Secondary schools and FE colleges are due to go back from 15th June, as you have described.

  • › news › uk-scotland-52770518 29 May, 2020 – Pupils will return to Scotland’s schools from 11 August – but the Scottish government has stressed that classrooms will look very different…

    Poor old England with its bumbling UK government led by a bumbling Johnson who seems to think if he waves his arms around then he’s made a sensible decision.

    And now…….. the NHS in England is causing endless unhappiness and anxiety by removing some people from the shielding list without any explanation or even informing their GP’s.

    What on earth is going on south of the land of the Prince Bishops ?

  • Laurence Cox 30th May '20 - 2:23pm

    We need to rethink the way we educate children after covid-19. This article from The Guardian a coupkle of weeks ago provides a good way forward:

    It has now been supported by the BBC’s Director-General

    If we are to justify continued government financial support for the BBC, we must emphasise its Reithian role in education.

  • John Marriott 30th May '20 - 5:57pm

    My seven year old grandson is going nuts in Manchester. No amount of FaceTime etc is going to be an adequate substitute for interacting with his friends. His four year old sister seems OK. However, according to ‘the rules’ she will be returning to her reception class but he as a Year Two student will not. We have a similar situation here in Lincolnshire with my six year old granddaughter possibly returning; but her three year old brother will not be able to return to his nursery.

    As far as I am concerned, I would write off the rest of the year and attempt to restart in September. Come to think of it, why not award the Premier League title to Liverpool, as they are just about there and forget about playing the remaining matches in empty stadia?

    The big joke is all the fuss they make about children missing the odd week of school during term time and parents being fined. How many weeks of school have they all ‘missed’ so far? What if they had just been ill instead of enjoying a cheaper holiday somewhere in the sun? My view when I taught was always, fine; but don’t expect me to help them catch up with what they might have missed.

    Most youngsters in Europe don’t start formal education until the age of seven, so why do we insist on ours starting at four? There’s a lot of humbug talked about ‘education’. Equally it would appear that the ‘chaos theory’ is driving our planners.

  • @Simon Alexander Fost – Thanks for the clarification.
    @Laurence Cox – I agree, having established a national curriculum it always seemed odd that it wasn’t followed up by further national education initiatives such as the “Open School” concept, particularly as when the National Curriculum was first established the Open University and its broadcasts were still fresh in people’s minds.

  • Simon Foster 30th May '20 - 9:26pm

    @Laurence Cox The open school sounds like an excellent idea, thanks for posting the links which I read with interest. Will go away and think how best to support this.

    Now watching today’s news with 4 sage members coming out and saying its too early to relax lockdown….

  • Antony Watts 31st May '20 - 7:56am

    I tell you what: home schooling is fun. I learned a lot, especially chemistry. And my wife now understands adverbs vs adjectives.

    We did this on our yacht while sailing in the Med and over-wintering in places like Tunisia, Turkey, Greece, Italy… Used postal school stuff (privately bought, our government does NOTHING for home schoolers), and he met other kids – notably a Canadian family who, incidentally were in constant touch with and received constant material from their school in Vancouver.

    Our son had a wonderful time, skipping classes but talking to just about every other boat owner in the marina. Taught him a lot about gas-bagging with the community.

  • Simon Foster 31st May '20 - 8:04pm

    Now the BBC is reporting that the body representing School Governors has come out against primary schools widening their numbers tomorrow, and is arguing for September to be when primary schools fully reopen:

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