Schools in Lancaster and Morecambe 'long way off' returning to normal

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The Education Secretary has confirmed children will not have to go to school during summer holidays, as unions say we are a long way off allowing safe levels of children and adults to return to school without serious health risks.

There is plenty of speculation over when schools will re-open following the coronavirus pandemic.

But both local and national union representatives have said that a great deal of preparation will be needed, even for a phased return for some children.

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Commenting on yesterday’s appearance by the Secretary of State in front of the Commons Education Select Committee, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said the union was relieved to hear confirmation that schools and colleges will not be returning during the summer holidays.

There has been a lot of speculation over when schools will re-open.There has been a lot of speculation over when schools will re-open.
There has been a lot of speculation over when schools will re-open. | other

She said lockdown isn't a holiday.

Sam Ud-din, Secretary for Lancaster & Morecambe District of the National Education Union, said that a "road map" for a return to school had not yet been started by Lancashire County Council.

He said that unions won't get to see the government's road map until sometime next week, he expected lots of debate, and that, based on experience to date, plans could easily change.

He said: "While we want all children to get the very best education that we can provide (and we need to discuss what should that look like going forward), we are a long way off from having sufficient control of key medical issues in our primary and secondary schools to safely allow large numbers to return without significantly putting at risk the staff that would be able to return, the children and their families.

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Sam Ud-din.Sam Ud-din.
Sam Ud-din. | other

"The 'road map' or logistics of how many children in each school can be managed at any one time and what kind of rota would be safe, with what level of infection, what amount of testing and PPE - and how those children not in school on any one day are still also looked after - has not even started to be worked out by Lancashire County Council.

"The scientific evidence suggests that we have not yet reached safe levels yet to have the level of free movement - including children travelling by foot, car or by bus to have large numbers be able to travel safely for everyone involved.

"Some local schools have increased numbers, but we are only talking about going from two or three pupils per day to around 10 per day - coping with hundreds safely is far off.

"Local Hubs, where around 10 pupils from four or five schools go to one site, still properly supported, have been run very successfully - returning to the separate sites too early could be further damaging if changes are made too frequently.

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Dr Mary Bousted.Dr Mary Bousted.
Dr Mary Bousted. | other

"We do need to keep in mind too that staff, teaching and non-teaching, are all too themselves still trying to mange the impacts of Covid-19 on their own lives and their families.

"Many are a long way away from being able to return to travelling to work."

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: "We were relieved to hear confirmation from the Education Secretary that schools and colleges will not be returning during the summer holidays.

"Lockdown is not a holiday.

"All education staff are working extremely intensively for long days during lockdown and so the summer holiday dates must stay in place.

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During August, children and teenagers who have been inside for months are going to need activities like summer schemes and holiday clubs, if these can be safely re-opened by Local Authorities.

"When the scientific evidence allows for a return to school, a great deal of preparation will be needed.

"Issues such as how social distancing can be achieved and which year groups might be first during the phased return are extremely complex for heads to timetable and will require negotiation with union groups.

“We must 'build back better' rather than rush back to normal.

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"Learning will need to be relevant to students and their experiences and our focus must be on transition, not catch-up.

"For lots of different reasons the phased return is going to be very challenging for lots of children, and students are going to need time to talk and time for a healthy transition, not 'catch up' or booster classes.

"Children with SEN, or starting year 7 in September or in reception, for example, will need lots of emotional support during any phased return.

“When it is safe to talk about phased return, schools will then be planning for phased return but also for the ongoing support to students at home.

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"Schools will not have all staff back on site for many months and not until testing and tracing is fully up and running.

"All staff with underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable will need to be at home so timetables will be tricky and the full curriculum simply impossible.

"We will need an extended, flexible recovery plan, and no one should be under any illusion that there is some 'catch up' magic bullet.

"What is obvious is that we need a plan for a phased return that does not make the effect of lockdown for disadvantaged children even worse.

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"This means we need a flexible interim curriculum, lots of focus on social and emotional health and much greater social security for the millions of families struggling to feed their families.

"Access to laptops is urgent and many schools are making their own plans, rather than wait for the national scheme."