Why schools should be kept open

Dr Pamela Edmonds, head of The Hampshire School Chelsea, says being in school is vitally important to further safeguard all children

There are ample clear and good reasons why the government should keep schools open during this global health pandemic. For one, the power of school as a safe haven for pupils cannot be underestimated, highlighted by the recent high-profile and successful free school meals campaign. Schools are vitally important to vulnerable children in preventing some children from going hungry.

Furthermore, being in school helps to further safeguard all children and, in some cases, to avoid potential neglect. Schools undertake measures to ensure that all children are safeguarded in a context where mental health, welfare and maximising outcomes for all is upheld.

The global health pandemic has forced pupils to learn differently, to lose contact with vital friendship groups and to break with the routine of coming into the classroom where they are supported and nurtured on their educational journey. Sobering statistics point to a sharp rise in mental health problems among children.

Every school’s pastoral programme has to be of a high quality to maintain pupils’ wellbeing. Fundamentally, school is a centre of trust where a child can speak freely and spontaneously to an adult and receive timely interventions if required.

The culture of care goes hand in hand with academic excellence and at the core of every school is the learning environment. In my mind there is no substitute for face-to-face, on-site learning.

Teachers adapt their teaching to the needs of each individual child so that every child’s academic and personal ambitions are fulfilled. They can achieve this because teachers are able to observe changes to pupils’ welfare, notice subtle changes in behaviour, the child’s attitude to learning and to self, and provide rapid support to children and families.

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Head of The Hampshire School Chelsea, Dr Pamela Edmonds, with a pupil

 

This is no less important at the start of a child’s educational journey. In early years, through purposeful play, children create narratives together, learn to work collaboratively, demonstrate resilience and cooperate – which are all essential skills for their personal and academic progress.

Like many schools in Lockdown 1, we quickly embraced digital technology and delivered ‘live’ lessons for our pupils to access from all corners of the world. It was achieved by ambitious, highly skilled and committed teachers and families who have the knowledge and resources to support their child’s e-learning. Teachers worked tirelessly to ensure that no pupils’ educational journey was interrupted.

However, as we all know, not every family has the right resources for remote learning and arguably, there may be an adverse impact on the child’s progress. On the face of it, virtual learning sounds like the perfect alternative to learning in school but look a little deeper and that may not be the case.

Virtual learning requires a child to demonstrate expansive IT mastery; opening electronic documents, muting and unmuting mics, uploading work to a platform, amending text using online annotation tools and presenting documents to a virtual audience.

On the face of it, virtual learning sounds like the perfect alternative to learning in school but look a little deeper and that may not be the case

One could argue that even the most computer-literate two to 13 year olds will find some of these tasks a challenge; ownership of such skills, although empowering and key to success in life, do take time to hone. Furthermore, while gaining technical prowess is a laudable aim in this increasingly digitalised world, connections with and reactions to pupils are easier to interpret when in a live face-to-face situation.

Working to an online schedule is different from being at a desk in school and while I appreciate that a blend of both virtual and face-to-face learning may be a positive experience for some, in the long term, all pupils would learn these IT skills. However, some pupils adapt better than others to accessing virtual learning resources.

The Covid-19 pandemic has tested everyone’s growth mindset and we are mindful of those who may have suffered loss and trauma as a result of the pandemic. In the physical classroom, the teacher is able to provide immediate pastoral support.

It is testament to the profession that teachers do whatever is necessary to deliver the highest standard of continued education for all children. That provision, I believe, is best delivered by keeping all schools open.

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