Village hall schools' and summer lessons among ideas to solve delay

How schools COULD go back: Calls for a ‘furlough-style blueprint’ to scrap two-metre rule, open ‘Nightingale schools’ in church halls and enlist a ‘volunteer army’ including ex-teachers to finally get children back in the classroom

  • Plans for all primary school children to return before the summer scrapped 
  •  It has led to condemnation from parents left to juggle jobs and home-schooling
  • Experts demand that ministers get a grip risk damaging future of a generation

 Boris Johnson is facing mounting political and public fury today after his plans for returning children to school collapsed into confusion.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to admit yesterday that plans for all primary school children to return for a month of school before the summer break in July had been abandoned.

And Government sources refused to confirm that all pupils at either primary or secondary schools will be able to go back full-time after the holidays, merely saying they hoped ‘more’ could return. 

It has led to condemnation from parents left to juggle jobs and home-schooling and education experts demanding that ministers get their act together or risk damaging the educational futures of a generation. 

Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield accused ministers of ‘furloughing childhood’ and said she was ‘incredibly concerned’ pubs and theme parks now looked set to reopen before most schools. 

But what are the possible options the Government could explore to re-open the nation’s classrooms?

Among those that have been mooted are using buildings like church and village halls to hold extra classes and extra lessons across the summer break.

A volunteer army, including ex-teachers brought out of retirement or new careers to return to classrooms could accommodate these measures.

One of the main issues for ministers however, will initially coming up with a concrete and serious plan to cover the next few months, with anxious parents awaiting good news as soon as possible.

Here we analyse some of the options that have been put forward. 

Treat schools problem like the NHS and the furlough scheme during coronavirus crisis 

Boris Johnson (pictured today in Downing Street)  is facing mounting political and public fury today after his plans for returning children to school collapsed into confusion.

Former Education Justine Greening is among those who suggest that the first thing to do is start treating the issue with the same seriousness as ministers had for protecting the NHS and helping workers at risk of unemployment.

The shambolic U-turn over the primary school openings and lack of a plan to solve it has attracted a lot of Tory anger.

Ms Greening told the Times: ‘We’ve had a national effort on both the NHS and protecting jobs and we now need the same national effort on schools,

‘When he announced the furlough scheme, the Chancellor said he would do whatever it takes to protect households and businesses. That was the right thing to do. But we now need to see that same approach for schools and education.’ 

She later told GMB: ‘I think many people will be very surprised that there isn’t yet a government plan in place to help our schools get back open and there’s also not a government plan in place to help children that have been most affected by the schools shutdown to be able to catch up.

‘And the big risk for Boris Johnson’s government now is that unless they bring forward a proper joined-up strategy, then it won’t be a government that delivers levelling up in Britain, it will end up being a government that levels down and nobody wants to see that.’

Meanwhile Sir Michael said the Government’s approach to education has been an ‘absolute tragedy’.

He told GMB: ‘What’s happened over the last few weeks and months has been an absolute tragedy.

‘And it’s been a tragedy for those youngsters who need school, need the structure of school, need the routine of school, need teachers who will be working with them, to support them when they get very little support at home.’

He added: ‘I just don’t know how we’ve made such a mess of it, because headteachers, and I know lots of headteachers, will have been saying to the Department for Education, you’ve got this wrong.’ 

Mr Sunak has warned school closures are as damaging to the economy as the 2008 credit crunch, it was claimed today.

The Chancellor is believed to be among the most hawkish in government on the need to reopen schools. 

He has privately told colleagues that the impact of keeping millions of pupils at home is the same scale as the financial crisis, which required nearly £140billion in taxpayer bailouts, according to the Telegraph.

The fears emerged after figures showed the costs of the government’s furlough scheme rising again, with the UK on the brink of the worst recession in 300 years. 

Axe the two-metre social distancing rule 

A socially-distanced class at work at Landywood Primary School in Staffordshire this week

The Government’s two-metre social distancing rules and advice from Public Health England – that class sizes should be limited to 15 – are believed to be the major obstacles to getting more children back.

Mr Johnson is coming under growing pressure to ease the rules.

SAGE adviser Shaun Fitzgerald of Cambridge University, who helped draw up the rule, told the Times that there should be more focus on how long people are close together any whether they are facing towards each other.

‘The thing which is missing from a simple two-metre rule is consideration of other factors, such as time, duration and orientation,’ he said.

‘It’s all three that are important. I would not want to be 1 meter apart from somebody for an extended period because that’s much, much higher risk than two metres.

‘But being less than two metres for a short period and I’m not facing that person are ameliorating factors. If things evolve, it isn’t necessarily because the evidence is any different.’

However, after months of this being a hard-and-fast rule that should not be taken, this could be a hard sell even to those parent desperate to have their children back in classes. 

At Prime minister’s Questions today Mr Johnson told MPs the rule is ‘under review’.

Responding to SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Mr Johnson said: ‘I believe that those measures, the two-metre rule, need now be kept under review.

‘As we drive this disease down, as we get the incidence down, working together, I want to make sure we keep that two-metre rule under constant review.’

‘Nightingale schools’

Former chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw is among those who have said that the only way schools can physically return is with a drastic increase of space

Nightingale Hospitals were set up across the UK to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases and some have called for a similar approach to schools

Reception pupils from Landywood Primary School in Staffordshire take part in a socially-distanced outdoor exercise 

Former chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw is among those who have said that the only way schools can physically return is with a drastic increase of space.

Current rules mean that classrooms are limited to 15 pupils at a time, who are socially distanced by 2m from others.

This means that rooms used to often containing around 30 pupils are half full. Or as Sir Michael put it on Good Morning Britain today: ‘If you’re going to insist on social distancing and a maximum of 15 in a class we will need double the amount of space, we will need double the amount of teachers and we’ve got to make sure we have that.’

But how to create that space. One idea is to mimic the Nightingale Hospitals that were set up across the UK to deal with a surge in the worst-affected coronavirus patients that fortunately has yet to materialise.

Yesterday, Reverend Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis chain of academy schools, predicted that some of his 30 primary schools could take on more children and that his staff are looking to utilise other community buildings as makeshift classrooms.

The Baptist minister told the Today programme: ‘I think there are other ways around dealing with this as well because what the Government has said about bringing children back – keeping them two metres apart, socially distanced but bringing them back – well, of course it is not possible to bring all children back into a school building and keep the social distancing – it is an oxymoron, you can’t do both things.

‘But in any community there are other buildings that can be used – community halls, churches and other faith groups’ buildings, hotels.

‘We’ve explored conversations with some people like that so you can bring children back in and use those buildings because their emotional and social development is so important.’

A ‘volunteer army’ and ex-teachers to create more classes and work over the summer

As mentioned above Sir Michael wants to see more teachers as well as more classroom space.

Though the vast majority of schools have never actually closed – they have been open to the children of key workers – the number of teachers required was obviously lower than normal.

And if double the number of classrooms is needed, you may need double the number of teachers, depending on the use of technology.

Senior Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Committee, has urged Boris Johnson to set up a ‘national education army’ to help pupils catch up with their learning in the coming months.

The Harlow MP and former skills minister said retired teachers, graduates and Ofsted inspectors should be asked to help open libraries and school gyms to create temporary classrooms.

He said such an effort would help mitigate the damage already done by the coronavirus crisis to the education prospects of ‘left behind’ pupils.

He told The Telegraph: ‘We could start it now. Boris went on about this wonderful health service volunteering thing – which is great – but why on earth aren’t we doing it for education?

‘Why isn’t Boris getting up there and saying ‘I am going to have a national education army in our country to look after the 700,000 vulnerable children who are not doing any home or school work at the moment’? That is what Boris has got to do – it has got to come from the top.

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis, an ex-teacher, was one of those willign to give up his time to take part.

The new Stoke-on-Trent MP told the Commons Education Committee today: ‘As a former teacher I’m prepared to come out and work over the summer…if we don’t we are going to fail an entire generation.’

Screens and PPE equipment for teachers 

Fee-paying schools are planning to reopen next week for children in years 10 and 12 who face exams.

They are doing it by supplying teachers with face screens and other equipment commonly used in hospitals.

Ministers have previously rejected a similar plan for state school teachers, saying that the social distancing measures were adequate. But if there is a need to get more people into available classrooms, it is one area that could be reconsidered.

Other measures that will be use include temperature checks using high-tech infra-red thermometers at the start of classes, and keeping doors open to allow air to circulate.

A national taskforce

Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions today to urge Mr Johnson to back his proposals to set up a national task force to look at the return of pupils to schools.

Sir Keir Starmer used Prime Minister’s Questions today to urge Mr Johnson to back his proposals to set up a national task force to look at the return of pupils to schools.

He said: ‘We all want as many children back into school as soon as it’s possible and as soon as it’s safe. What that required for that to happen was a robust national plan, consensus among all key stakeholders and strong leadership from the top – all three are missing.

‘The current arrangements lie in tatters, parents have lost confidence in the Government’s approach, millions of children will miss six months’ worth of schooling and inequality will now go up.

‘Several weeks ago I suggested setting up a national taskforce so everyone could put their shoulder to the wheel. It’s not too late, will the Prime Minister take me up on this?’

Mr Johnson responded: ‘Last week he was telling the House that it was not yet safe for kids to go back to school, this week he’s saying that not enough kids are going back to school. I really think he needs to make up his mind.’

Source: Read Full Article