The @LibDems have put forward a plan to “work in unity” at a local and national level to consider ways to safely open schools more widely in England and support disadvantaged pupils in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Presenting the Party’s Five Point Plan in a letter to the PM and Education Secretary, Layla Moran urged the Government to bring together council leaders, teachers, unions, experts and opposition politicians to agree a national plan for the safe, phased opening of schools more widely in England.
The plans put forward by the Liberal Democrats offer possible ways to get more pupils back in classrooms safely including:
- Safe space registers enabling schools to use local buildings for social distancing
- Recruiting additional staff through a Teach for Britain campaign
- End the learning void by working with the private sector to ensure no child is unable to access their online learning environment
- Develop a plan for flexible, phased reopening staggering key year groups
- Stop the disadvantage gap from widening further by committing to free schools means through the summer and a new Summer Learning Fund so disadvantaged pupils can access education through the summer holiday.
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, said:
“We all want schools to open more widely. Every day pupils can’t be in school is a day lost, but safety must come first. We need to work together to get this right. That’s why I want to see the Government working politicians across the political spectrum, plus unions, teachers and local governments, to consider practical and flexible solutions for the safe, phased reopening of more schools in the future.
“My Five Point Plan outlines options that could help to facilitate the phased safe opening of our schools more widely, as well as measures to address the widening disadvantage gap, such as engaging with the private sector to make sure every child can access online learning, or a commitment to a Summer Learning Fund to support those most at risk of falling behind.
“We need to learn from successes elsewhere in order to ensure we get this right. Parents, Teachers and pupils all need to be confident that children can go back to the classroom without putting their health at risk. That is what these plans are all about.”
Please see the text of the letter below:
Dear Prime Minister and Secretary of State,
I hope you are both well and able to stay safe at this time.
As you are both no doubt aware, plans for the phased reopening of schools to more pupils in England have experienced setbacks, and have been characterised by divisive debate and tribal politics. I believe that we need to show collective leadership, and recognise that our children’s futures must come before party politics.
We need to work in unity, and agree a national plan for our schools in England before the disadvantage gap becomes a gulf. We all want schools to reopen to more pupils when it is safe for them to do so, and I know you will join me in thanking our school leaders, teachers, school staff and governors for the incredible hard work they have put in to already make this happen for some children.
I am writing to urge you, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, to bring together council leaders, teachers, unions, experts and opposition politicians to agree a national plan. In advance of this, I would like to share with you our suggested five-point plan. I hope you will take it on board and work with us to deliver the outcome we all want to see.
The Liberal Democrats’ five-point plan for reopening schools to more pupils in England
- Increase capacity for physical learning. Combine local spare space registers, where local councils and school leaders can cooperate on using suitable empty buildings in the community as learning spaces.
- Recruit an army of extra teachers to cope with demand. Launch a Teach for Britain recruitment campaign to bring out-of-work supply teachers and recently-retired teachers into schools so more pupils can return. Build on the success of the Social Work Together campaign, developed with the Local Government Association. Work with unions to try and get more teachers into learning spaces in any one school day.
- End the online learning void for thousands of children. Develop a bold strategy to leave no child behind by partnering with the private sector to get laptops and internet access to any disadvantaged child currently unable to learn online. Recognise that the current target of 230,000 leaves too many children behind, and that councils are neither receiving the equipment they have asked for, nor seeing high uptake rates for the kit they’re given. Begin major advertising campaign to encourage families and children to ask for equipment. Back this up by working to get more physical resources including textbooks to children lacking internet/computer access.
- Consider designing a flexible, phased reopening that follows the science and has the trust of parents and the profession by being developed with them, following the lead of Kirsty Williams in Wales. Consider extending the summer term by one week, and stagger pupils’ attendance in school, so that at most a third of pupils are normally present at any one time. Begin the next academic year on time in September, but double the autumn half-term break to two weeks. We must recognise that many schools are doing a fantastic job at phased reopening, and ensure local authorities, academy trusts and government are learning from their successes.
- Halt the widening of the disadvantage gap. Extend the free school meals over the summer holidays, but recognise the scheme is flawed and excludes many families and so combine it with an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, during this crisis. Implement a ‘catch-up premium’ of £700 per disadvantaged child, to enable schools and charities give them a much-needed boost in the next academic year. Also create a Summer Learning Fund so that councils can run summer learning camps for children, focused on local authorities in the most deprived areas. This will prepare children for September and give many children a positive environment in which to learn and re-acclimatise to an educational environment. Fully fund places for children on free school meals.
The safety of teachers, staff, pupils and their families has to be paramount, and we must always follow the science. The only thing worse than keeping our children from learning would be a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We need to learn from the mistakes of how this issue has been handled before it’s too late. We need to move forward together for the sake of those children whose future is already on the line.
Thank you for taking the time to read my proposals, and I look forward to hearing from you both.
Layla Moran MP
Member of Parliament for Oxford West and Abingdon