Dr Peter Moore: Opening schools must be joint decision involving all interested parties
- Credit: Archant
Should primary schools open for reception and Years 1 and 6? Are teachers being difficult or is the Government being dogmatic?
The only certainty is uncertainty. There is no simple answer.
Any return to school carries a risk but keeping children off school also carries a risk. The attainment gap between children from a deprived background and the better off will widen.
There is a great deal we do not know about this virus but we do know some things.
First of all, it does not appear to cause serious illness among young children although they can catch it.
If we were only looking at the welfare of children, primary schools could open tomorrow with no social distancing.
But children do not live in a bubble. A school could be the centre of an outbreak, staff would then be at risk and the children could take the virus home to their parents or grandparents.
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Because everything closed at the same time we do not know whether closing schools made a difference or whether it was some of the other measures; social distancing, staying at home, closing pubs, clubs and cinemas or working from home.
We do not even know how infectious children are when they have the virus.
In countries where schools have reopened there has been no increase in cases but the numbers are small and figures uncertain.
The decision is finely balanced.
What we can say is that head teachers will always have the welfare of their pupils and staff at heart. Teachers care for children, it's in their DNA. They have been working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances during the lockdown.
Schools have been open for vulnerable children and children of key workers while teachers have also been setting work and helping pupils online.
It is grossly offensive for some of the popular press to suggest that they are 'work shy' or 'lazy'. Teachers would love to reopen the schools but need to be certain that it is safe. Many of the rules for social distancing are difficult in primary schools.
The level of coronavirus is also very different in different parts of England. Not all schools are the same. In most modern primary schools classrooms have doors opening onto the playground. In an old Victorian building there may be one entrance and narrow corridors.
The Government suggests we should follow the example of Denmark where children are already back at school.
The problem is that if we follow the Danish model it cannot be pick and mix. We cannot follow some of their ideas and ignore the ones we don't like or are impracticable in English schools.
Many Danish primary schools are on the same site as secondaries.
Initially children sat one child at each table with the tables two meters apart. Young children were taught in small groups.
All this meant more teachers and more classrooms.
If possible, lessons were held outdoors. Part-time teachers started working full time and the empty classrooms in the secondary schools were used as overflow.
Hand washing increased to over five times a day and the authorities brought in temporary hand wash sinks.
But perhaps the largest difference was the Government's approach.
From the beginning the teaching unions, local authorities and scientists were all involved. The final decision was a joint one with all parties. All the evidence was published and discussed.
In England, the Government announced schools would reopen on June 1 without first releasing the advice on which it was based and without discussing it with the teachers.
When a scientist at the Downing Street press conference suggested that young children will not touch each other's lunch boxes she showed that, while she may be an expert on public health, she was not an expert on young children.
As we slowly come out of lockdown we must avoid confrontation and work together.
Teachers are intelligent, hard working and caring. They need to be brought into the discussions.
Opening schools must be a joint decision involving all interested parties.