The prime minister is being urged to set out a roadmap for re-opening schools to all pupils by the children’s commissioner for England and Solace, the members' network for local government and public sector professionals throughout the UK.
Anne Longfield and Ade Adetosoye, Solace spokesperson for Children and Families, have written to Boris Johnson outlining what conditions need to be in place for schools to be able to reopen without compromising wider efforts to suppress the Coronavirus.
“We welcome your personal commitment to open schools as soon as possible, and particularly your promise that schools will be the first to open when lockdown can be eased. We agree with you that school is the best place for children and that children’s education should not be compromised for a day longer than necessary,” said the letter.
“Unfortunately, it is much easier to close schools than to reopen them. That is why we are calling on the government to produce a clear roadmap for reopening schools to all pupils. Without it, there is a risk that the status quo becomes embedded as a default position,” it added.
The letter stressed that while they are not saying that it is safe to open schools now, or that a date needs to be set. However, they are requesting that the key criteria that need to be met in order for schools to safely reopen are outlined, including what practical support will be needed within schools.
Having a clear plan will focus minds across the entire education system from central government to individual schools, the letter adds.
The first step would be re-convening the SAGE sub-group on schools to consider the evidence that has emerged since the last meeting on the new strain of the virus, and the impact of school closures and lockdown. Specifically, SAGE should consider:
- What conditions need to be in place for schools to be able to reopen without compromising wider efforts to suppress the virus.
- What additional measures may be needed within schools, for example, testing or staff vaccinations to suppress the virus.
This advice could then feed into a published roadmap to the wider reopening of schools that can inform schools, local authorities and other partners, as well as children and their parents. Publishing a roadmap would enable schools and local areas to prepare adequately, to ensure that plans are in place and there is wider confidence in the system.
If significant changes are needed, such as changes to the testing system, they need to be implemented ahead of the date at which schools can return.
“Setting this out now not only increases the prospects of schools being able to return, and it would also improve trust amongst schools, teachers, parents and children,” concluded Ms Longfield and Mr Adetosoye.
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