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Prolonged school closures risk children’s well-being, says Church’s education chief

19 May 2020


How classrooms in England might look from 1 June. A primary-school class in Slovenia, which restarted, with social distancing, on Monday

How classrooms in England might look from 1 June. A primary-school class in Slovenia, which restarted, with social distancing, on Monday

KEEPING children at home “for a prolonged period” risks harming their “mental, spiritual, physical, and social wellbeing” and causing those from “the most disadvantaged families” to fall further behind, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, has said.

“‘R’ is a letter, accept when it’s a number. It’s more worrying when it’s a number”

Church House issued a statement on Monday, which set out the Church’s position on potentially sending some children back to school on 1 June, in the wake of concerns raised by teaching unions about the Government’s plans.

In the statement, Mr Genders acknowledged that “with almost two months having passed since most pupils attended their school building, it is clear that the risks surrounding Coronavirus cannot and will not be quickly resolved”.

He also said, however: “It is of paramount importance that children’s education and all that schools offer can continue as fully and as soon possible, while always balanced with the health risks that this may entail.”

Mr Genders praised teachers who were continuing to work with vulnerable children and the children of key workers, but said that “remaining at home for a prolonged period will affect the mental, spiritual, physical, and social well-being of children. We are particularly concerned about the impact on children from the most disadvantaged families, and the potential this has for a widening in the attainment gap.”

He continued: “As parents and staff are concerned about both the feasibility and the wisdom behind a phased return from the 1st June, we can be pleased that the scientific evidence behind these proposals has been set out in order to give confidence. The phased plan to bring back a limited number of year groups initially will rely on ongoing monitoring to keep track of the situation.

“It is right that schools themselves will decide how this phased return works in practical terms. We will continue to work to support school leaders at a local level as they move towards a phased reopening at the pace dictated by local circumstances and the overarching science.”

Mr Genders also urged people to “continue to support and pray” for those working in schools.

In an article published on the Church Times website this week, an anonymous teacher wrote: “What I would like to see is not a set of arbitrary dates for opening schools, with a tacit expectation that infections will rise as a result. . .

“The Government should, instead, confer with teachers about the damage that has undoubtedly been done to children’s education, and start planning with far greater seriousness to counteract this when it is safe — and my ‘reasonable definition’ of what ‘safe’ means is when opening schools will not lead to an increase in cases.”

Comment: a teacher’s fears about a 1 June return to school

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