Gavin Williamson has sought to reassure parents worried about their kids going back to school this week while warning them they risk putting a ‘huge dent’ in their child’s future life chances if they don’t.
The beleaguered education secretary has written an open letter to all parents in a last minute attempt to convince them it’s safe for their child to go back to the classroom.
Acknowledging that many parents will still be concerned about the threat of coronavirus, he’s tried to reassure them that schools are safe because of the measures put in place to avoid infection.
He’s also stressed Covid-19 is an ‘extremely low’ health risk to children and that their health and wellbeing will suffer more if they stay away.
Many children haven’t been in school at all since March and the Government has been trying for weeks to convince parents it’s time for them to send their children back.
Mr Williamson wrote: ‘If a child is not in school, they stand to lose far more than just a few months of learning. It could well put a huge dent in their future life chances.
‘Education is a birthright, so let’s make sure we get all children back – back to learning, back to playing and back to being kids again.’
Teachers unions have condemned the Government for releasing last-minute guidance for secondary schools in lockdown areas, which includes a ‘rota system’ limiting the number of students in attendance at any one time.
Published by the Department for Education (DfE) on Friday evening, it was released just before the bank holiday weekend and only days away from the start of autumn term.
Many head teachers said they had to give up their weekends to read it and think about how they were going to make further changes.
Some of the measures highlighted by the education secretary include children being put in groups, or ‘bubbles’, to limit contact, while face coverings should be worn in communal areas of schools under local lockdown.
He said that ‘huge lengths’ have been taken to prepare schools for the return of pupils, adding: ‘Based on this, our priority now is to get all our children back. It really is the best place for them to be.’
The new guidance instructed schools to use a ‘four-tier system’, dependent on the coronavirus situation in the surrounding area.
All schools are open at tier one, while tiers three and four mean more stringent restrictions such as closures to all but pupils in vulnerable groups or children of key workers.
A tier two response will see secondary schools and colleges in a restricted area moving to a rota system, which means pupils will spend two weeks on-site followed by two weeks at home.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green told Sky News that, while the guidelines were ‘long overdue’, the timing of the release of information was ‘unfair’ to head teachers and school leaders.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, branded the timing of the new guidance ‘reprehensible’ and said it showed a disregard for the wellbeing of teachers.
‘It was obvious weeks ago that lockdown advice was necessary,’ he said in a statement.
‘The Government’s decision to publish this at 9pm on the Friday of the bank holiday weekend before most schools are due to return is nothing short of reprehensible and demonstrates a complete lack of regard for the wellbeing of school leaders and their teams.’
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