Responding to @EducationGovUK guidance for schools reopening which include an overhaul of the curriculum, impose strict behaviour regimes and include a continuation of remote learning, @LibDems Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:
“A raft of guidance is again released, but it is meaningless unless it is accompanied by robust scientific evidence to reassure the public that these plans won’t result in an increased risk of Covid-19 spreading.
“The practicality of the plans also raise concerns. Dropping entire subjects and a continuation of remote learning without much needed equipment is far from an indication that this Government is giving pupils the best start in life.
“With the start and end of a school day moving to avoid rush hour, the Government will need to explain what working parents can do to get their children safely to school.
“Ministers must ensure every aspect of their thinking is fully transparent and open to scrutiny. They must also now engage with the profession and the public to answer these questions and more, before their plans fall apart at the seams.”
The Liberal Democrats’ five-point plan for reopening schools to more pupils in England:
- Increase capacity for physical learning. Combine local spare space registers, where local councils and school leaders can cooperate on using suitable empty buildings in the community as learning spaces.
- Recruit an army of extra teachers to cope with demand. Launch a Teach for Britain recruitment campaign to bring out-of-work supply teachers and recently-retired teachers into schools so more pupils can return. Build on the success of the Social Work Together campaign, developed with the Local Government Association. Work with unions to try and get more teachers into learning spaces in any one school day.
- End the online learning void for thousands of children. Develop a bold strategy to leave no child behind by partnering with the private sector to get laptops and internet access to any disadvantaged child currently unable to learn online. Recognise that the current target of 230,000 leaves too many children behind, and that councils are neither receiving the equipment they have asked for, nor seeing high uptake rates for the kit they’re given. Begin major advertising campaign to encourage families and children to ask for equipment. Back this up by working to get more physical resources including textbooks to children lacking internet/computer access.
- Consider designing a flexible, phased reopening that follows the science and has the trust of parents and the profession by being developed with them, following the lead of Kirsty Williams in Wales. Consider extending the summer term by one week, and stagger pupils’ attendance in school, so that at most a third of pupils are normally present at any one time. Begin the next academic year on time in September, but double the autumn half-term break to two weeks. We must recognise that many schools are doing a fantastic job at phased reopening, and ensure local authorities, academy trusts and government are learning from their successes.
- Halt the widening of the disadvantage gap. Extend the free school meals over the summer holidays, but recognise the scheme is flawed and excludes many families and so combine it with an emergency uplift in child benefit of £150 per child per month, with £100 for every subsequent child, during this crisis. Implement a ‘catch-up premium’ of £700 per disadvantaged child, to enable schools and charities give them a much-needed boost in the next academic year. Also create a Summer Learning Fund so that councils can run summer learning camps for children, focused on local authorities in the most deprived areas. This will prepare children for September and give many children a positive environment in which to learn and re-acclimatise to an educational environment. Fully fund places for children on free school meals.