Headteachers defy teaching unions to say all children should be allowed back into school at same time

Anna Davis
·4-min read
<p>Alun Ebenezer, head of Fulham Boys School, said: ‘There is a risk in them all coming back to school, but an even greater one in them not coming back’  </p> (Lucy Young)

Alun Ebenezer, head of Fulham Boys School, said: ‘There is a risk in them all coming back to school, but an even greater one in them not coming back’

(Lucy Young)

All children must be allowed back to school at the same time because pupils in every year group are suffering, London headteachers warned today.

It comes after teaching unions said it would be “reckless” to bring back all pupils to school together and would risk another spike in coronavirus infections.

Boris Johnson is set to announce plans for reopening schools on March 8 but it is not clear if all pupils will return in a “big bang” or if the start will be staggered.

Emma Pattison, head of Croydon High School, said: “There isn’t one year group of pupils that isn’t suffering under the current conditions.”

She added: “I am absolutely desperate to get our pupils back into school. March 8 for all would be great. The toll this extended time in isolation is taking on our young people cannot be overstated.”

Alun Ebenezer, head of Fulham Boys School, said: “There is a risk in them all coming back to school, but an even greater one in them not coming back.

Watch: Education union leader reacts to schools reopening

“Every year group has something to play for. Year 7s haven’t really had an induction year to secondary school, year 8 didn’t last year, year 9 pupils have got important choices to make with GCSEs next year.”

Vicky Bingham, head of South Hampstead High School, said: “There has been much talk about the importance of bringing primary and exam years back but we cannot forget about the impact on the learning, mental health and social lives of the 11-15 age group. They must not become the Cinderella years of the pandemic. Year 7 pupils, for example, were just starting to settle into secondary school life and make friends, and then lockdown happened.”

Bethany Dawson, head of Sutton High School, said: “The uncertainty is causing an enormous amount of stress for pupils. I would love to have all girls back by March 8 and we are ready to ensure school is safe and to provide the care and support girls will need upon their return.”

Nine education unions warned it would be “reckless” to bring pupils back at once and have called for a more cautious and phased return.

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union said he wants to see the evidence that supports the government’s reopening plan.

Speaking on the BBC Today Programme, he said: “Yes let’s get all children back, that’s the right thing to do, but let’s do it on a basis that we can maintain. What we are hoping is that the government can make its policy decision credible with a good explanation as to what data it relies upon and why the government thinks it won’t result in another spike that will close schools again. Because a further closure would be even more devastating than taking a more cautious approach.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We share the government’s aim of bringing all children back to the classroom as soon as possible, but we remain concerned about the idea of a ‘big bang’ approach of a full return of pupils all at the same time.”

In Wales and Scotland, the youngest pupils were today returning to face to face teaching as a phased school reopening begins.

Children of key workers and vulnerable pupils have been able to attend school in all parts of the UK throughout the lockdown.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

Headteachers also voiced their fears over reports that lateral flow tests will be used to check secondary pupils for Covid-19 before they return to the classroom, and then students will be expected to test themselves twice a week at home in a bid to catch asymptomatic cases.

Ms Bingham said: “Are we meant to be do these before or after March 8? It feels like a huge distraction when the plan is for home test kits to be used thereafter. I can well imagine conducting 2500 tests and not returning a single positive result.”

Ms Pattison said: “If we are required to test each pupil at school twice before their return, organisation of this will take up a great deal of valuable planning time over the coming two weeks.”

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