Hampshire headteachers welcome date for pupil return but criticise government for lack of communication

HEADTEACHERS have welcomed plans for Year 10 and 12 pupils to return to classes – but have criticised a lack of consultation.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 5:40 pm

The proposed return announced by Boris Johnson has been welcomed by Portsmouth councillor Terry Norton, who is concerned about pupils’ prolonged absence.

At the same time, the announcement caused confusion among some – with many headteachers saying they’d been privately informed by the Department for Education of a June 1 return.

The government has provided guidelines saying 25 per cent of a year group can be in at any one time.

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CllrTerry Norton feels now is the right time for children to start returning to school. Picture: Malcolm Wells

Headteachers in the area have said guidelines should have been provided in advance of the announcement.

St Edmund’s Catholic School headteacher, Simon Graham, said: ‘As with all the announcements from the government the first we knew about the June 15 date was when the prime minster revealed this date in his press briefing.

‘We have since received guidance from the Council and government, some of it useful but a lot of it is being changed on a weekly basis which makes it difficult to plan.’

Primary schools are expected to reopen from June 1. As reported, many have not been able to do so in line with government hopes.

Crofton School headteacher, Simon Harrison, has welcomed guidance from the government but feels it should have arrived sooner. Picture: Loughlan Campbell

Park Community School headteacher, Chris Anders, said: ‘We welcome this news as I know many teachers are keen to get going and start teaching.

‘Our plan is for Year 10 pupils to attend one day a week covering a morning and afternoon spread across two separate days. This allows children to go home for lunch, meaning we don’t have the issue of social distancing over the lunch break.

‘Children will be taught maths, English, science and some of their option choices with a focus on supporting them with their subsequent online learning. We also need time between groups to clean down surfaces.’

Ian Gates, headteacher at The Cowplain School, added: ‘I think it’s reasonable to expect some children in from June 15.’

He said: ‘Every single announcement concerning schools seems to be announced in public but is not followed with detail.

‘This leaves schools guessing. It’s difficult to have faith in the Department for Education when announcements are made and we don’t get clarification for over two weeks.’

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Classrooms are already being adapted to cater for groups of between 10 and 15 students while sticking to social distancing.

While secondary headteachers welcome the phased return, some concerns do remain.

Simon Harrison, headteacher at Crofton School, said it was ‘frustrating’ plans for June 1 were delayed.

He said: ‘There remain significant questions about how to implement current guidance and the precise scientific evidence to support this.

‘Pupils, staff and parents will quite rightly continue to seek explanation, reassurance and support ahead of June 15. Our first priority is the safety and wellbeing of everyone.’

Ian Potter, executive headteacher of the Gosport and Fareham Multi-Academy Trust, said a lot will fall to parents’ judgement about sending their children into school.

He said: ‘Obviously we will be encouraging our school leaders to exercise their judgements about what’s the right thing to do in the circumstances.

‘I daresay students and parents will be led by their instincts regarding what’s appropriate.’

Cllr Norton said there is a risk keeping children at home will ‘widen the education gap’ further, with concerns over welfare.

The Mayfield School teacher said: ‘During lockdown, the gap between rich and poor families is increasing and the longer it goes on the larger the increase in educational inequalities.

‘The Institute for Fiscal Studies have said by the end of the month, children in better-off families will have received a week-and-a-half more learning than children in the poorest households.

‘School is a safe place to learn, develop and play. We can’t guarantee that all children are being well looked after at home.’

The opposition education councillor said the National Education Union’s branding of return-to-school proposals as ‘reckless’ was ‘irresponsible and only serves to scare parents’.

But NEU president and Portsmouth teacher, Amanda Martin, told The News: ‘Any anxiety is being caused by the government and their inability to provide clear guidance and scientific evidence that it’s safe to return.’

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