As a parent of two young children I am fully aware of the challenges of combining childcare, home-schooling and working from home.
For many children and parents this has been a time of huge frustrations, but also great joy in being able to spend far more time together than the standard work pattern usually allows. For those of us who commute from Essex to London on a daily basis, leaving the house before the children are up and getting back as they go to bed is all too common.
However, for some parents and children , cooped up in small flats with no access to gardens or easily accessible outside play, being asked to stay at home during this lockdown has been a huge challenge. A significant minority of families here in Brentwood and Ongar have limited access to the internet and home computers, so find it very difficult to take part in online school lessons.
As a former teacher, I understand how much children of all ages are missing out on by not being able to be at school. For the youngest it’s learning social skills, for the older students it’s key lessons for GCSEs and A levels. And there are some children for whom school is their ‘safe place’ when life at home is difficult or frightening.
Our local schools have been doing amazing work in providing huge amounts of online learning and lessons and keeping in touch with these students. If the youngsters are not taking part in the online learning, their teachers are getting in touch to find out what’s going wrong and what support can be offered.
The Government is now asking schools to prepare for a cautious phased return to school by June 1st. Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said this phased approach is based on the best scientific advice, with children at the very heart of everything we do.
Those in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will be allowed back in smaller classes, while those who are preparing for public exams next year – Years 10 and 12 – will have the chance to go into school and have some face to face time with teachers.
Schools are being asked to carry out a risk assessment before opening to more children and young people, addressing risks associated with coronavirus so that sensible measures can be put in place to minimise those risks for children, young people and staff. These might include reducing class sizes, keeping children in small groups – “social bubbles” – and reinforcing the mantra of hygiene and hand-washing. School staff can already be tested for COVID-19 if they show any symptoms and this will be extended to children and their families too.
I know this is a big step forward for many families, and there is concern for the safety of children and school staff alike. 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. Please be assured that guidance and support is being provided to schools to ensure that both children and teachers are kept safe.