Schools need testing plan and tech for pupils, says children’s czar Anne Longfield

Anna Davis
·4-min read
<p>Anne Longfield said the previously “unthinkable” closure of schools was “not something to celebrate or welcome

Anne Longfield said the previously “unthinkable” closure of schools was “not something to celebrate or welcome

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School closures will damage young people the longer they go on, the children’s commissioner warned today as fears grew about the impact of the latest lockdown.

Anne Longfield said the previously “unthinkable” closure of schools was “not something to celebrate or welcome, and it will cause more and more harm to children the longer it goes on”.

Ms Longfield also called for a clear plan on testing for the virus in schools and for all students to be given the technology they need to undertake remote learning from home. Schools will be closed to all but the most vulnerable children and those of key workers until at least February half-term, Boris Johnson announced last night, in an attempt to stop the rapid spread of the virus.

GCSEs and A-levels will also be cancelled. Michael Gove said today that schools were the first thing the Government wants to reopen after the lockdown but “appropriate progress” with vaccinations needed to be made first. The decision to close schools will not be reviewed until February 15.

Ms Longfield said: “We already know from the last lockdown that keeping children out of school can have long-term consequences for their health and attainment, as well as putting at risk some of the most vulnerable children who live in families where there are problems with alcohol or drug abuse, domestic violence or serious mental health conditions.

“There is no doubt that closing schools again will have a negative impact on many children.”

She said she wants to see NHS-funded counsellors in every school to support children’s mental health and added: “I want to see a clear plan from ministers that keeps those vulnerable children most likely to fall through the gaps in school. It must provide tech for remote learning for every child who needs it.

“The plan must show how the Government will set up a testing system that schools have confidence in, as well as making teachers a higher priority for vaccination.”

Mr Gove said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson would address a recalled House of Commons tomorrow to update MPs on how pupils will be assessed at the end of the year.

He said: “It is critically important that children maintain their learning and we will be supporting them to do so by making it easier for more and more students to access remote learning.”

London headteachers also warned of the impact on their pupils. Emma Pattison, head of Croydon High School, said: “I have always seen childhood as the most precious time in our lives —Covid-19 is ripping a huge hole through the childhood of all of our pupils. It is devastating to bear witness to this. The lockdown will affect all pupils and their families; the next couple of months are clearly going to be hugely challenging for every single member of our school communities.”

But she added: “Amongst this madness, we must remember that the game-changing vaccine, which was only a distant hope in the summer, is now being rolled out and that this year will see a slow return to something like normal. We simply have to hold on to this and soldier on.”

Ashid Ali, head of London Enterprise Academy in Tower Hamlets, said that although closing schools was the right decision, he feared the impact on his pupils.

He added: “One of the biggest challenges inner-city children in areas like Tower Hamlets will face is the organisational skills and the ability to self-regulate, to access online learning and live daily teaching, which we will provide. Most families will not have the quiet work space in their homes for their children to join the lessons even if schools like ours provide the technological support with iPads and laptops and internet dongles.

"Families will struggle to provide food on the table and pay the bills as many will be without income and haven’t benefited from the furlough scheme. It’s important that schools like ours provide that support to the whole family.

"Last lockdown our governors were committed to supporting families with food and we intend to do the same again.”

Richard Tillett, principal of Queen’s College London, a private girls’ school in Harley Street, raised fears that more disadvantaged children will not be able to access remote learning as easily as those from wealthier backgrounds. He said: “We are fortunate to have plans in place for exceptional live remote learning and to have a pupil community well-equipped with the technology to undertake successful virtual learning at home.

"But the inevitable widening of the educational gap between us and the most disadvantaged pupils if all schools remain closed until after the February half-term is a huge cause for concern.”

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