Independent sector responds to roadmap for reopening schools

Heads say the safety of staff and pupils must be the priority, whilst the NEU warns a potential date for reopening schools could give false hope

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday (27 January) that schools in England will not be able to reopen to all pupils until 8 March at the earliest.

England’s schools have been closed to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers since 5 January. The prime minister said there is not enough data yet to decide when to end the national lockdown.

“We all want our children to be back in school and we are naturally saddened by the announcement,” said Guy Emmett, headmaster at Scarborough College – an independent coeducational day and boarding school in North Yorkshire.

“We feel ready to be open to all pupils but the frustration we also feel is not the announcement itself but the situation we are all in.

“I am sympathetic to the fact that this is an ever-changing situation. I would like children back in school on 8 March, but I know it’s not that simple and do not envy the people who have to make these decisions.”

Lesley Barton, headmistress at Fairfield School – an independent coeducational day school in North Somerset – said: “It is always useful and helpful to have clarity in terms of timescales for reopening as it enables us to plan purposefully.

“Safety for everyone must always be the priority and there is little point in becoming frustrated if plans for reopening schools and easing lockdown are being informed by the scientific data and clear and unambiguous messages from the scientific and medical experts are being given.”

‘False hope’

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said although she agrees that reopening schools is a “balancing act” alongside the progress of vaccinations and reduction in Covid-19 cases, setting a potential date for reopenings could create “false hope”.

“The prime minister may now be immune to the embarrassment of U-turns, but school leaders, teachers and support staff, not to mention families and students, are utterly exhausted by them,” said Bousted.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said it is clear it is too soon to put 8 March “firmly in the diary”.

He also highlighted the importance of prioritising the teaching workforce for vaccinations, and the government collaborating with school leaders to ensure a “workable plan for lifting the lockdown”.

They will not be a ‘lost generation’

Emmett said this year his pupils are continuing to highlight why they are not a ‘lost generation’ – a term that has been used often in the media.

“I keep hearing about our young people being a ‘lost generation’. Families, schools and the children themselves will make sure they are not. I am in school every day and see children in person or online who makes us all proud.

“It is incredible to see schools, families and, above all, the children adapt. They are resourceful, independent and are showing a genuine love of learning.”

Barton said they are striving to support families by “fostering a sense of strength of community”, and continue to issue a weekly newsletter that includes everything they would like to celebrate for that week.

In related news: Sharp drop in Generation Z girls’ wellbeing during teenhood, says report

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