As children across the UK prepare to return to schools this week and the Omicron variant continues to surge, we must do everything possible to ensure that schools can open safely this week and remain open to prevent further social and educational suffering for children.
It’s firstly important to recognise the challenges we face to keeping schools open. At Abercorn we have thus far managed to deal with Covid-related absences in house, but staff shortages represent a significant challenge for many schools and institutions.
Where staff absences are rife or expected to be rife, I would encourage schools to make contact with ex-teachers who have the skills and time to step in and support. Furthermore, I don’t believe that any year groups should be prioritised over others.
“I think schools should be prepared to merge parallel classes in the same year.”
I believe that all children deserve equal access to in person equal education. Where necessary, I think schools should be prepared to merge parallel classes in the same year to ensure that all children can remain in school. I believe that measures now to keep schools open will be of huge benefit to children, their wellbeing and their futures.
In my experience, academic success and the willingness to learn go hand in hand with personal wellbeing and the enjoyment of schooling. School closures have undoubtedly already led to learning losses, triggering a knock-on negative effect on the wellbeing and mental health of children. This negative impact was in fact also recognised by a recent Ofsted Annual Report published in December 2021, which described how lockdowns caused “loneliness, boredom and misery to become endemic among the young.”
It is clear to me that pupils learn best in the classroom with face-to-face, on-site education. Learning in a structured, supportive, safe and, above all, enjoyable schooling environment is essential to help nurture happy, successful individuals who are well prepared for the real world. As quickly as schools like Abercorn adapted to online learning, for many children, it was not a comfortable experience and at best, a considerable inconvenience for their parents. The pandemic can no longer interfere with the vital learning and development of the future leaders of our world.
“For many children, online learning was not a comfortable experience.”
I am therefore supportive of measures that the government is encouraging schools to adopt, including mask wearing in senior schools and testing pupils on return from the Christmas holiday to reduce transmission rates. However, I would certainly caution against warnings from the Ofqual chair to suspend specialist subjects like music and PSHE.
Education should include a wide variety of subjects, and I think we should do everything to prevent depriving youngsters of all the wonderful elements of school outside academia, like music, sport and art. Striking a balance between academic excellence, including the sciences, combined with a pursuit of the arts and personal health is fundamental to a well-rounded and happy education.
2022 cannot be yet another year of disrupted learning. Interrupting children’s education should be a last resort. Keeping schools open will protect our future.