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Why parents can send their children back to school with confidence


Today, schools will be welcoming back the millions of pupils who have been learning remotely during this latest lockdown (stock image)

Extensive measures have already been rolled out in classrooms throughout England to ensure pupils are protected as they return to lessons

Today, schools will be welcoming back the millions of pupils who have been learning remotely during this latest lockdown. But while many parents heaved a sigh of relief when the Prime Minister announced the plan, many others were understandably concerned about the risk of pupils catching Covid-19 during lessons.

But thanks to a raft of new measures – including a fast and efficient test to pick up previously undetected cases of coronavirus – parents can be assured their children and family are protected.

The Covid-19 rapid lateral flow test has been extensively trialled these past few months on some of the 15 per cent of children who had still been attending.

Regular rapid testing is also being made available to staff and parents of school and college students as well as adults in their household, childcare and support bubbles.

Of course, parents know just how important it is for youngsters to have proper lessons: while remote learning has helped pupils, it’s no long-term substitute for the classroom.

And teachers can’t wait for all the children to arrive back to begin closing the education gap that’s developed during lockdown.

To help them, the Government has provided £700m in new funding on top of £1 billion for an education and recovery package to help youngsters catch up on lost learning. It has also provided £8 million for a wellbeing programme that is funding expert support, training and resources for staff to respond to emotional and mental health pressures youngsters may be facing.

It’s important for children to get back to education for so many reasons. ‘There’s so much more that schools give than just teaching facts and figures,’ says Dr Gavin Morgan, educational psychologist at the University College London. ‘They’re essential for a child’s wellbeing.

‘Children can catch up on lessons they’ve missed, but what you can’t replace are those incidental aspects of education so important for their development, such as play and developing social skills.

‘The longer children stay away from school, the more unhappy, withdrawn and lacking in those skills they’ll become. And unhappy children don’t learn.

‘It’s understandable for parents to be concerned, but it’s about balance – the risk to a child’s health from Covid is minimal, so it’s immeasurably better for them to be in school.

‘We need to trust that our teachers know what they are doing. Schools look very different to how they did a year ago.’

Here, schools reveal the measures now in place to protect our youngsters.

Testing will help get life back to normal for children

‘We saw testing as something that would help us get out of the pandemic and find the road back to some semblance of normality,’ says Gerard Garvey, principal of the 1,250-pupil college

Newcastle Sixth Form College was one of the schools to trial the rapid Covid-19 test that it’s hoped all pupil, parents, staff and adults in their household, childcare and support bubbles will take twice a week.

Eight special bays were set up to administer the swabbing of staff and students and to teach them how to do it themselves, because after the first three tests in school, they’ll be expected to do it at home.

‘We saw testing as something that would help us get out of the pandemic and find the road back to some semblance of normality,’ says Gerard Garvey, principal of the 1,250-pupil college.

‘Our students were keen because they really want things to return to normal as well. While it didn’t change their day-to-day experience, it reassured them.’

 The good news is that regular rapid testing is now also available for parents and adults in their households, childcare and support bubbles.

‘If you believe, as I do, that having young people back in the classroom is the right thing to do, then that’s where we need to put our energy,’ says Gerard.

‘We need to make that happen by pulling together and making it work.

‘The huge benefits of having them back here with us will make all the protective measures we have to set in place completely and utterly worth it.’

We’ll be raising morale while ensuring students are protected

Enass Al-Ani at Small Heath Leadership Academy, Birmingham

When all pupils return to Small Heath Leadership Academy in Birmingham today, they won’t just find new protective measures in place.

Like all school heads, Small Heath’s principal Enass Al-Ani is making the health and wellbeing of pupils a priority.

‘We are doing some extra things this time back specially to raise morale,’ she says. ‘We’re having extra assemblies and rewards for students. We’ve also had posters put up, welcoming everyone back.

‘There will be activities with staff and team-building exercises. We’re planning to have a fun element as part of our programme for return to school.’

Pupils will also be able to do all the activities that were put on hold during lockdown including drama club, archery and Cadet Force.

‘Remote teaching cannot substitute the complete experience our students receive – the friendships, conversations, interactions with teachers, time in the playground and extracurricular activities,’ says Enass. ‘We’ve got a very wide range of events taking place at school every day.’

School is where children need to be

Kate Jefferson is headteacher at Millbank Academy in Westminster

Getting children back into the classroom right now is vital for all their futures, says headteacher Kate Jefferson.

But the little ones returning today to Millbank Academy in Westminster, which has 300 pupils aged from three to 11, will find their school looks a bit different.

They’ll be continuing the protective measures taken throughout this lockdown, when just 60 children turned up for lessons each day.

‘We’ve had staggered break times,’ says Kate. ‘Different key stages have breaks at different times and staggered school entry and exit times and points.

‘We’ve improved ventilation in classrooms, so we’re now keeping the windows open. That’s really important, and an underused measure.

‘We’ve had extra cleaning staff on site during the day working between lessons when the children go out for breaks.

They clean high-traffic areas, such as handrails, door handles, and desks in classrooms.’

Virtual assemblies, lots of handwashing and social distancing – although it’s hard with such young children – are also the order of the day. And when pupils return, staff will be having twice-weekly Covid tests and wearing face coverings when in close contact with pupils. It is a small price to pay for a return to near normality.

Regular rapid testing is now also available for adults in staff and parents’ households, childcare and support bubbles.

Little ones returning today to Millbank Academy in Westminster, which has 300 pupils aged from three to 11, will find their school looks a bit different

‘Teachers are very excited to have the children back and to welcome them,’ says Kate.

‘School is where children need to be. It’s where they see their friends, it’s where they socialise, and those social skills are the cornerstone of our modern world.

‘It’s really essential to being a child that they can play with their peers and connect with the community.

‘School allows children to have those building blocks to lead a purposeful and fulfilling life; it brings choice, it brings freedom and it levels the playing field.’

So how are pupils going to be protected?

Rapid tests for Covid-19 will be the key to protecting children and their families when they return to education today.

If parents give permission, pupils will be given a swab to rub around the inside of their nose or mouth, which is then tested for signs of the virus – results are available in around 30 minutes.

These quick and simple rapid flow tests are effective in finding those who don’t have symptoms but may be transmitting the disease. As these could account for up to one-in-three cases, detecting them is vital.

After pupils have had three tests at school or college, they’ll begin doing them at home. Using them is an easy four-step process:

  • Sanitise the testing area and your hands, unpack the kit and read the instructions.
  • Swab your throat then nose.
  • Place swab into the liquid in the tube provided, then squeeze that liquid onto the test device.
  • Lay test device on a flat surface – after 30 minutes it will give a result.

When someone tests positive, they and the rest of their household, support and childcare bubble should self-isolate immediately. The person who tested positive should also take a PCR test (the kind given at official Covid testing sites) and follow the latest Government guidance.

It’s also vital that no child showing symptoms of coronavirus attends classes – parents should book a test for their child and self-isolate until they receive the results. 

Parents or adults of a household, childcare or support bubble can either: get an assisted test at work if it is available, attend a test site to get tested (where they will be able to see how to take the test) or pick up tests to do at home. If these options are not possible, there will be a small supply of tests available to access online for people who need them the most. It is hoped that households will get into the habit of testing themselves regularly.

Other protective measures in schools include teaching in bubbles, ventilating classrooms, washing hands more frequently and staggered break and lunch times. Staff and pupils in secondary schools are being advised to wear face coverings at all times social distancing can’t be maintained including in the classroom and communal areas.

The same is true for both staff and adult visitors at primary level, although children do not need to.

For more information, visit gov.uk/backtoschool or speak to your child’s school or college.

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