Calls made for pupils to return to school in phases

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott said that blended learning should be the way forward - Credit: Archant

Calls have been made for Suffolk pupils to return to the classroom in stages rather than all at once following the third national coronavirus lockdown.

The Labour group at Suffolk County Council has backed calls for the government to allow pupils to return to in-classroom learning in stages, with blended learning used to ease pupils back in safely. 

Opposition spokesman for education, Jack Abbott, said he was concerned that a return of all pupils to the classroom straight away could see high infection levels in schools similar to last December. 

“Of course, we want children back in the classroom when possible - but we also have to be pragmatic and cautious," he said.

"If the government has a ‘big bang’ reopening of schools, as has been reported, it could set us back and undermine all of the sacrifices that have been made.

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“Instead, the government must seriously look at ‘blended learning’, essentially a rota system where some pupils are in school for one week and then learning at home the next.

"This flexibility would help keep class sizes low and make testing manageable, while ensuring that every pupil can receive some face-to-face contact time.

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"It may also reduce the transmission of the virus.

“I don’t want to go back to a repeat of what we had in Suffolk before Christmas, where nearly a 1,000 pupils a week were having to be isolated.

"Not only was this hugely disruptive for those children who missed out on their education, but parents were also having to change their working hours at the last minute.

"Blended learning may help reduce those absences and give families certainty."

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the chang

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the change Picture: PHIL MORELY - Credit: Archant

Geoff Barton, former headteacher of Bury St Edmunds' King Edward VI School and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There have been some worrying comments in recent days that suggest the government wants to bring back all pupils into English schools at the same time.

"This has coincided with the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish assemblies all opting to follow a sensible path of phasing the return for their pupils, giving them time to check infection rates at each stage before allowing more children to return.

“Whilst we want to see English schools open, the idea of almost 10million young people arriving back en masse gives us little comfort that the government is thinking rationally. 

"Nobody wants to see schools having to close their doors again having collectively worked so hard to reopen them but this course of action risks that happening, as well as giving our already hard-pressed teachers headaches about the logistics of arranging mass testing to pick up asymptomatic cases.”  

Mary Evans

Cabinet member for education Mary Evans urged families to teach their children at home if possible. - Credit: Gregg Brownn

Mary Evans, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said: “Covid-19 has impacted on all of us in different ways and for many children and young people this has affected their education. 

"Our schools across Suffolk have done a wonderful job providing remote learning, as well as keeping schools open for so many vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

"It has been very challenging for all school staff and I pay tribute to their commitment and dedication.

"At the end of January,  99.7% of schools in the county were open. 14% of children on roll were in attendance (20% in primary, 5% secondary, 26% special schools and 28% in alternative provision ).

"This is in sharp contrast to attendance in the first lockdown last spring, which peaked at an attendance rate of 3.6%.

“I know how much effort parents and carers across Suffolk have made to help their children learning at home and I thank them for all their continuing hard work.

"It is, however, important that we get children back into schools, nurseries, and colleges as soon as it is safe to do so, as it is the best place for their education and wellbeing.

“We are awaiting guidance from government on exactly when and how the return to school will take.

"However, schools have already been working hard to prepare to welcome children back safely. As ever, Suffolk County Council is working with school leaders to assist them get ready.

"Testing for schools is now widely available and the vaccination programme is well underway, these steps are both contributing to minimising the risk and will enable teachers to get back to teaching children in the classroom again.”  

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