I apologise for the length of this message, but given the circumstances, I feel that this was necessary given the wealth of information relating to the wider re-opening of schools and the range of views relating to this issue.
I would to thank all parents who completed the questionnaire I sent out last Wednesday as part of my most recent letter. As you can see from the results, parental views are as divided on the issue of students returning to school as are many of the national figures and bodies.
|Parental Questionnaire Results – May 2020|
|Send back to school||How students are coping with home learning||Amount of work set|
|Year||Total||Y||N||U||Well||Okay||Struggling||Not engaging||Too much||About right||Too little|
|*not all figures will add up to 100% due to rounding|
I am sure that the vast majority of people are in total agreement that we want children back in schools as quickly as possible, but this has to be done as safely and sensibly as possible. There is a significant difference of opinion regarding how safe it would be for children to return to school after the May half-term break, and this must take account the safety of children, members of staff and the families of all concerned.
The expectation on primary schools is that from 1 June 2020 at the earliest, they ‘welcome back children in Nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups’. The expectation on secondary schools is that at some point before the end of term they ‘offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.’
On the one hand, a number of the teachers’ unions, who met the government scientific advisers last Friday, still remain unconvinced that it is safe to re-open schools from 1 June and they feel that there are still too many uncertainties about ‘the science’. For example, it is believed that children’s likelihood of transmitting Covid-19 is not more than adults and that it may be less, but no more concrete than that. In addition, they cited that last week, the Office of National Statistics suggested that age does not affect the likelihood of being infected. They have been supported by the British Medical Association, the UK’s largest doctors’ union, who said in a letter to the National Education Union on Friday that the number of coronavirus infections remained too high to allow them to operate schools safely. They stated teaching unions had been ‘absolutely right’ to urge caution and prioritise testing before reopening schools on 1 June and went on to say that ‘We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK,’. Liverpool became the first local authority to rule out reopening its primary schools until at least 15 June and then only Year 6 would be allowed back. There are no published plans as yet for schools to reopen in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
On the other hand, the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, appointed by the government to act independently to promote and protect the rights of children, supports the return of children to the classroom as soon as possible. She claimed that the government’s plans were sensible and felt that there was overwhelming evidence to suggest prolonged periods out of the classroom was extremely damaging, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged youngsters. In addition, three chief executives of large multi academy trusts believe a return to school on June 1 for their primary schools is possible and are putting plans in place for this to happen. Christopher King, head of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (private primary schools) said he expected all 670 schools to reopen to the priority groups on June 1. World Health Organisation chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan reported over the weekend that children are “less capable” of spreading the virus, and are at “very low risk” of getting ill from the disease. She stated that in countries where schools have remained open there have not been big outbreaks in them.
As you can see there are a wide range of views about the reopening for schools, though much of this debate is centred around primary schools, as they are the first to be expected to reopen. There are additional difficulties that relate to the expected secondary provision outlined by the DfE, not least keeping students in the same small group and keeping them totally separate from other students.
Representatives from Lancashire headteachers met remotely on Wednesday 13 May and agreed a statement, yet to be officially endorsed by all schools, but which tries to convey that such decisions won’t be rushed and will ultimately be taken by individual headteachers and governors, taking the context of their school into account.
Lancashire Association of Secondary School Headteachers (LASSH)
Joint Statement on the reopening of secondary schools to more students from 1st June 2020
As Headteachers we are committed to the education and the well-being of the children in our care. We all recognise that both of these are best served by opening our schools to more students as soon as we can do so safely and no sooner.
The DfE’s guidance, published on 11th May, states, “from the week commencing 1st June at the earliest, we will be asking secondary schools to offer some face to face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.” As headteachers we believe that it is right to provide such support as soon as we can. However, we will only do this when we as headteachers, with our Governors / Trust Boards, have assessed it to be safe.
We know that the COVID-19 virus is still widely prevalent across England and that the North-West of England is currently one of the worst affected regions. We also know that the conditions for wider opening of schools contained in Step 2 of the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy have not yet been met and will not be reassessed until shortly before 1st June.
Our schools will approach wider opening in different ways depending on their local circumstances. However, we all agree that:
- We will not expand our opening to any more groups of students until the conditions needed to move to Step 2 have been met AND we are satisfied that it is possible to open safely. We will not put a particular date above the safety of our children and their families, our staff and their families, and our wider communities.
- We will not seek to undermine the advice given to us and our staff by our professional associations on wider re-opening.
- We will continue to support the remote education of all our students, to meet our responsibilities to safeguard students and staff members, and to arrange on-site provision for children of key workers and vulnerable students.
It is true that until there is a vaccine (and there may never be one) there will always be a risk, however small, of children contracting Covid-19, and schools will need to return at some point. The decision that needs to be made is when, and then how this risk can be minimised.
There were a significant number of questions/comments raised in the questionnaire responses and I assure you I have read every one of them and they are helping to shape our provision going forward. It is impossible to answer all of these in my letter, but I would be happy to discuss any concern with you about school reopening; please email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org. Whenever any school decides it can reopen, parents will ultimately decide whether they feel it is right for their child to return to school, making this decision on a whole range of factors.
The feedback relating to home learning has been very helpful. We fully appreciate the difficulties associated with working from home and recognise that the circumstances for each student and their family is different. How individuals learn best, their age, the environment they are working in, the working commitments of their parents, other siblings and many other factors all influence the ability to work successfully at home.
As a school, we continue to work hard to support students who are finding this process particularly challenging. Over the last two weeks we have telephoned over 100 parents to see how we could support learning from home and will continue to offer our help in the coming weeks. If you feel your child is struggling with their work and would value a conversation with a member of staff, please email on email@example.com and we will do our best to arrange a phone call.
It is clear that there isn’t a ‘perfect amount’ of work to share with all students or a ‘one size fits all’ method to set work that would optimise the learning experience for all Haslingden High students. All students work at different rates and this can vary on a day by day basis, and we welcome the flexibility for parents to make appropriate decisions about their child’s learning. You continue to be the ‘experts’ regarding your child and we support you in prioritising their emotional well-being, as appropriate.
We have provided links to free online platforms that can be used to supplement work published by staff in school if required and similarly, there is a shared understanding that not all work will be completed by some students who, for a whole host of reasons, are finding this time particularly challenging. Our learning support faculty are also continuing to provide their expertise to ensure work is appropriate for the full academic ability range in our school. We are currently reviewing how and when we set work and I will keep you updated of any changes we plan to make.
Finally, the school will continue to be open over the half term break for children of key workers and vulnerable students, however, during this time there will not be any work set by your child’s teachers.
Thank you again for your understanding and for the many positive conversations you have had with us; your support is greatly appreciated.