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Our plan for getting pupils back to schools and colleges

Getting our children and young people back into schools and colleges is a top priority – that’s because experts are all agreed that the best place for children to be is with their teachers, friends and peers.

Dr Susan Hopkins Covid-19 Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and Chief Medical Adviser to NHS Test and Trace has reinforced the importance of getting children back to school. In a column in the Telegraph, she wrote;

Face to face education is the best place to be for children’s learning, health and wellbeing.

So it is welcome news that with infection rates coming down, the government is planning for the careful reopening of schools and colleges.

Since January schools have only been open to the most vulnerable children and children of key workers. Teaching has continued for most via home schooling and remote lessons.

As the Secretary of State said in a piece he wrote for the Sunday Express this week:

Schools didn’t suddenly become unsafe. The reason they closed to most pupils was to reduce the need for people to leave their houses and stop the spread of the virus.

The return to face-to-face education has remained a national priority and all students will begin returning to the classroom on March 8, in the first of four cautious steps of the roadmap for leaving lockdown.

That’s why, when schools do reopen to more pupils, there will be additional safety measures. Every secondary school pupil will have three tests in the first two weeks, then staff and pupils will do regular weekly testing.

The existing school safety measures stay in place, staggered starts and breaks, desks facing forwards, additional hygiene and ventilation. Children in secondary schools will also now wear face coverings unless they are exempt or where it could hinder learning, such as for deaf pupils.

Getting children back to school is only the start of our plan. We can’t pretend that the last year hasn’t happened, nor can we pretend there won’t still be effects as we move through the next weeks and months.

That’s why we’re spending £700 million to help children catch up, including one-to-one tuition and summer schools to boost learning. That’s on top of the £1billion we announced last June for tutoring programmes.

In addition, we also know that additional measures were required to ensure students that have been affected by the pandemic were not disadvantaged. This is the reason we have cancelled exams and are putting our trust in teachers, who know their students best.

Young people will only be assessed on what they have been taught and not what they’ve missed. There will be strict guidelines on how teachers approach this and exam boards will challenge schools where grades seem too low or too high.

The Education Secretary reiterated the sentiment from everyone at the department at the weekend when he wrote;

All of us will have very different memories of our school days but many people remember them as the best years of their life.

I am determined to do everything I can to make sure children will still be able to say that in years to come, and that Covid is not going to define their childhood.

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