Back to school
By Councillor Mary Evans, Deputy Leader and Children’s Services, Education and Skills.
The return to school from 8 March will bring anticipation, perhaps some anxieties, and challenges for families and schools alike. The prospect of heading back to school for the first time since before Christmas will be exciting for many and may be daunting for others. It is however important that we get children back into schools as soon as it is safe to do so, because it is the best place for their education and wellbeing.
Covid-19 has affected the education and learning of all our children and young people in one way or another. Our schools across Suffolk have done a wonderful job providing remote learning as well as keeping school buildings open for many vulnerable children and children of critical workers. At the end of January, 99.7% of schools in the county were open with 14% of children on roll in attendance (20% in primary; 5% secondary; 26% special schools; and 28% in alternative provision). This was in sharp contrast to the first lockdown when attendance peaked at 3.6%. It has been very challenging for school staff and I pay tribute to their commitment and dedication. Parents and carers across Suffolk have also worked extremely hard to help their children learning at home. I sincerely thank them as I know it has not been easy to juggle home learning and home working.
School leaders have shared some of the successes they will build on as all children and young people return to full time ‘in school’ learning this includes news ways they have worked with their school communities. For example, by holding parents’ evenings online it has been easier for some parents to attend. I have also heard how teachers have been posting videos on their school websites, for example about how aspects of maths are taught, to help parents support their children’s learning. Many children have also been enjoying different ways of learning: online maths quizzes; conducting science experiments at home and then talking about the outcome in online lessons and using IT in a range of different ways.
While many children and young people will be looking forward to a full-time return, I know some families are feeling anxious but I would like to reassure them that schools have been working hard to welcome back pupils safely. As in the Autumn term, schools will implement safety measures based on their individual risk assessments. Each school is different and the school leaders in each setting know their children and schools best. The steps being taken include increased hygiene measures, social distancing and children remaining in consistent groups. Some schools may also have staggered start or breaktimes.
In line with government guidelines, all schools and settings with secondary aged pupils will now offer regular testing to their pupils. The first three tests will be on site and 3-5 days apart. After the three on site tests, pupils will be offered home testing kits and asked to administer these twice weekly. Some pupils may be invited in before Monday 8 March for the first of the onsite tests. I urge everyone to take up the opportunity of testing to keep our school communities safe.
School leaders will be in contact with parents before the start of term to advise on the arrangements. If parents have any concerns, I recommend they have a conversation with their school.
I recognise that our children and young people have had a very unsettling year and I know that going back to school again could feel quite difficult. The months out of school will doubtless have had a bigger impact on some pupils compared with others and there will be gaps in learning. School leaders and school staff will be using their professional expertise to ensure they know what each child’s needs are and will adapt teaching and the curriculum to meet them. Where parents have worries about their child's education and the impact of the lockdown, we would encourage them to talk to their child's school. Staff at the school will be best placed to offer advice about how individual children can be supported.
We also have a wealth of useful resources and training opportunities aimed at supporting children, young people, families, and school staff on our website to promote and support wellbeing for everyone in the school or college community. Please visit: www.suffolk.gov.uk/wellbeingeducation
I wish children and young people and all school staff the very best as they return to school.