Why we MUST stop marching Britain's schoolchildren up the hill & back down again – & prioritise their education
IT was like Christmas Day again.
Wearing big smiles and flushed with excitement, millions of kids returned to the classroom on Monday morning after an unusually quiet festive break.
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They delighted in seeing their friends and teachers – yet within hours of their first day back, the Government had announced schools were closing.
Like countless times since last March, our nation's children – and their parents – had been marched up a hill, only to be marched back down again.
The impact of this schools mess can't be underestimated.
Giving hope, then snatching it away hours later, only piles pressure on to already exhausted parents, teachers and support staff
Giving hope, then snatching it away weeks, days, or even hours later, only piles pressure on to already exhausted parents, teachers and support staff.
Today, mums and dads across England are facing weeks of home-schooling at short notice. Some will have to give up their jobs, and lose their income.
Kids left on the scrap heap
The working people will be impacted the most: our postmen and women, bus drivers, warehouse workers, takeaway delivery drivers – and their kids.
We know that, during the first coronavirus lockdown, some 700,000 children didn't have access to a computer or tablet.
And 55 per cent of teachers in the most deprived areas suggested students were learning for less than one hour a day.
Yes, the professional classes will struggle, too – but they will get by with functioning computers, fast WiFi and the ability to work from home.
Yet again, we’re in danger of creating a Victorian Britain of 'haves' – kids who can afford to be educated – and 'have nots', those left on the scrap heap.
Risk of 'county lines' gangs
On top of this, a new frontier of vulnerable children are being exposed to online harms and domestic abuse while at home.
Others have already been groomed into 'county lines' gangs. Some of these kids, now shuttling drugs across the UK, may never return to education.
This week's decision to close schools – and cancel A-Level and GCSE exams – comes after Tory MPs were told at the weekend that schools were safe.
We were informed, based on Public Health England advice, that closures would have only a minor and temporary effect on transmission rates.
Yet the impact on youngsters' social, physical and emotional development – which has already taken a battering – was predicted to be huge.
But the decision was still made. So now, how can we emerge from this chaos with our children's education, health and life chances intact?
For a start, we need the Government to lay out an educational route map out of Covid and a long-term plan for education.
They must use this time to roll out testing, and prioritise teachers and support staff for vaccination as they do NHS workers.
The Government must use this time to roll out testing, and prioritise teachers and support staff for vaccination as they do NHS workers
This will help schools re-open sooner.
We should also send mobile testing and vaccination vans to schools – just like the blood donor vans that travel up and down the country. Just because this can’t be done everywhere doesn't mean it shouldn’t be done anywhere.
Secondly, the Department for Education (DfE) and education regulator Ofsted must work together to help schools with remote learning.
Not as interrogators or investigators, but as candid friends.
The DfE should audit each child – especially those in exam years – and work with local authorities and academy chains to find out how they're doing.
We must know how much learning has been lost, and how much catch up is needed.
Rocket-boost for £1bn fund
Thirdly, the £1billion catch-up fund – which is really welcome – needs to be rocket-boosted and directed at helping disadvantaged pupils.
They are the ones losing out the most from all this.
And the mental health impact on youngsters can't be forgotten, either.
A Sun poll last summer found that spending more than three months off school had left children feeling more miserable, stressed and anxious.
It's why the Government must invest in mental health professionals across schools so that parents and pupils can access the support when they need it.
Recently, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, said one day of national school closures totals around 40,000 child years of education.
It's a terrifying figure, especially when you think about the weeks ahead.
I have repeatedly said that education should be given the same support, time and effort by the Government as our health and economy.
If we can have Nightingale hospitals, why can’t we have Nightingale – or Alan Turing – schools set up in warehouses across the country?
Here, safe teaching could be done, for as long as necessary.
Once the new policy on exams – which will most likely be centre-assessed grades – is in place, we’ve got to stick to it and not change it again
We also need to stop marching people up and down the hill.
Once the new policy on exams – which will most likely be centre-assessed grades – is in place, we’ve got to stick to it and not change it again.
It just leads to more pressure, more disappointment.
Similarly, the announcement that schools will close to the majority of children until the February half-term must be signed in blood.
It can't just be a guideline.
But we need more than consistency and clarity to keep our kids learning in the coming weeks, which Boris Johnson has admitted will be "tough".
We must have imagination, vision and determination.
After all, what can be more important than the education of our children?
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