• Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Coronavirus

English schools reopen with ‘system of controls’ to keep pupils, teachers safe

Announcing the reopening of schools in England, the Department for Education said a “system of controls” would be in place to keep pupils and teachers safe, with social distancing maintained whenever possible. (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

By: Eastern Eye Staff

SCHOOLS in England and Wales will finally reopen on Tuesday (1) to all students for a new term after the Covid-19 pandemic forced their closure, leading to cancelled exams and throwing student grades into chaos.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to get schools back up and running before the summer break, but was forced to shelve those plans, contributing to criticism over how his government has handled education during the crisis.

The Department for Education said that a “system of controls” would be in place to keep pupils and teachers safe, with social distancing maintained whenever possible.

“I do not underestimate how challenging the last few months have been but I do know how important it is for children to be back in school, not only for their education but for their development and wellbeing too,” said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who has also come under pressure.

The DfE emphasised that the new school term follows the backing for a full return from the chief medical officers across the four nations of the UK in their recent consensus statement, highlighting that the health risk posed by Covid-19 to children is extremely low and noting the significant risk to young people’s well-being if they are not back in school.

It added that ministers had also been visiting schools ahead of the new term and praised some of the innovative ways schools will be looking after children including the use of cleaning stations, and staggered breaks, keeping pupils in “bubbles”, social distancing and safety on transport.

Consistent with official medical advice, strict hygiene and cleaning protocols will be in place along with a one-off personal protective equipment (PPE) supply boost being distributed to schools for use in the small number of instances where it is necessary.

“All children will stay in groups or bubbles to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and older children in particular will be expected to follow social distancing guidelines,” the DfE said. “Face coverings should also be worn in communal areas in secondary schools in any areas with local lockdowns in place.”

Schools shut their doors in March, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for only a small number of pupils. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in August suggested school closures widened educational inequalities between poorer and richer students.

Concerns over an educational divide were compounded in August, when the government bowed to pressure from angry pupils, teachers and lawmakers to ditch an algorithm that had downgraded A-level results for almost 40 per cent of school leavers, with those in disadvantaged areas more adversely affected.

“Labour want and expect children to be back at school. Every day that schools were closed was a day of opportunity, learning and support lost. This situation was worsened by the exams fiasco and the government’s chaotic approach to education,” Labour leader Keir Starmer said.

“We cannot keep repeating those same mistakes. Young people’s futures cannot be held back by the Conservatives’ incompetence.”

Eastern Eye

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