When is the right time to reopen schools?

19 April 2020

The Department for Education reiterated yesterday that:

“No decision has been made on a timetable for reopening schools. Schools remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers & the most vulnerable children. Schools will only reopen when the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to do so.”

https://twitter.com/educationgovuk/status/1251633527470333952


Other groups such as the National Education Union has also stated that the decision should be based on scientific advice. But the decision on when schools should re-open, like all decisions being taken about COVID-19, are more complex than scientific evidence alone and therefore require government input.


The complexity of this decision has led to speculation by some and debate by many more about when schools should reopen. The debate is multi-faceted with many valid concerns being voiced. The primary concern is the safety of children, their families, teachers and everyone else who would need to return to work to keep schools running. This is where scientific advice is vital, but this is not the only consideration. School closures have wide-reaching impacts across society and do not affect everyone equally.


One example of this is the impact on those students who were about to take GCSE or AS and A-Level exams this summer. This is a critical point in their education that determines the opportunities that will be available to them in the future. Decisions have been made about measures for this group of students. Albeit for some the decision to cancel the exams and award grades based on an assessment of the grade they would have been most likely to achieve has not been popular.


A concern with less certainty is the extent to which school closures will deepen existing social inequalities. According to the Children’s Society an estimated four million young people live in poverty in the UK, with an estimated 2.1 million living in a household where there has been a difficulty paying the bills. The particular issues facing disadvantaged families has been identified as a key concern by the government’s Education Committee. It could manifest in many ways, including access to food without school meals (though a voucher system is now in place), extended care responsibilities for those living in a multi-generational household, and even an increased likelihood of suffering a bereavement during this time.


A study conducted by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that out of nearly 2,000 coronavirus patients, that individuals identified as BAME were disproportionally more likely to die from the Coronavirus. Thirty-five percent of deaths were from the BAME ethnicity category used by Government, but only 13 per cent of the UK population is classed as BAME.


Another concern is that not everyone has access to a reliable internet connection and therefore access to digital resources. According to NHS Digital the sections of the population that are more likely to be digitally excluded than others includes people in lower income groups, living in social housing, with disabilities and whose first language is not English. Without the additional support given by teachers and classroom assistants, many students from these groups are likely to see their learning put on hold. The Government has recognised this and today (19 April) announced that laptops or tablets will be available to borrow for some deprived 15-year-olds who do not already have access to a computer.

This was expressed by Sir Keir Starmer on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (15 April):

“One of the concerns I have is that the longer the schools are shut, the bigger the inequality between those children that are getting pretty good home-schooling because they have got the resources and the backing to do it and those that aren’t because perhaps they are in very overcrowded accommodation.” https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000h7ww


One thing that is clear is that schools cannot be reopened without support from schools and their staff. Therefore trust in decision-makers and their deployment of scientific advice is crucial. This is such an emotive topic as lives are being lost and households are falling into poverty so it is not surprising that views are as strong as they are diverse. I am interested to know what reassurances you’d want before schools re-open:

#reopenschools #education #educationcommittee #teachers #covid-19 #inequality #digitalexclusion #childpoverty #examscancelled


This blog post was written having read content from the following organisations:

@TES @NationalEducationUnion @AnneLongfield(Children’s Commissioner) @RoyalSociety @Children’sSociety @RealGeoffBarton @KeirStarmer @Todayprogramme @EducationCommittee @TheGuardian @NationalEducationUnion

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