School returns – a choice between danger and disadvantage

The dilemma our schools face when going back is not only the safety of children and staff, but also the educational needs of children – and particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds (Prolonged school closures risk damaging children’s education, No 10 warns, 15 May; Keeping schools closed in England will widen inequalities – study, 18 May).

We don’t have the evidence to show whether most schools are not good enough to close the gap between life chances of those children as they go through school. To allow this gap to develop unnecessarily, with the closure of schools, will be bordering on the politically criminal.

The government not only needs to delegate the opening times to regions and multi-academy trusts, but must also think about how we make good the loss of all pupils during the lockdown. Should the government be thinking of special summer schools or additional top-ups throughout the coming year, with teachers paid to help children catch up? And can we now open a debate on the best way of protecting the current year 10, who will be taking GCSEs next year?

So many pupils have lost so much ground during the lockdown. I hope we might debate the various ways of bringing justice to this group, either through allowing them to retake year 10, continuing with teacher assessment and no exams, or allowing them to start their final year in September but extend the exam season into July 2021.

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to have been disproportionately further disadvantaged by the effects of lockdown, and the government needs to take immediate action if social justice is to prevail.
Frank Field Chair, Tom Quinn CEO
Frank Field Education Trust

I find one aspect of the IFS study baffling. It is without doubt that in general students from affluent homes receive more support with their studies and tend to have wider access to educational resources.

Despite the hours put in by many students and parents at home, most people will agree that educational progress is greater at school. This is where I began to get confused: the study stated that 29% of less affluent families would send their children back to school when they reopen, whereas 55% of the most affluent parents would. It seems to me that the return to school will actually widen the attainment gap even further.

The IFS premise that the reopening of schools will mitigate widening educational inequality only stands up if parents are forced to send their children to school – and that will not, and should not, happen, especially because dangerous underlying health conditions are sadly more prevalent in low-income groups.

The issue of the gaps in educational progress and attainment is huge. It is also one for which schools cannot be held wholly responsible. It is true that the impact of home life on educational progress is even greater during the closure of schools, but it is an oversimplification to believe that opening schools is going to solve this problem.
Rachael Quinn
Buxton, Derbyshire

I am a retired primary headteacher whose leadership ability was described by Ofsted as exceptional. I understand the needs of young children and how to create a rich and supportive learning experience for them. We can not expect four- to six-year-olds to practise physical distancing in the classroom. It is not only untenable, it is also damaging.

Positive brain development in young children occurs when they can experience physical closeness and touch from their informing adults. Those are the neural connections that lead to further learning and indeed ability to learn. Being forcibly deprived of such proximity is likely to inhibit learning. We must work together to ensure that young children’s developmental needs are uppermost when designing a pathway to continuing their education.
Barbara France
Arnside, Cumbria

Steve Chalke’s determination to open all of his Oasis academies in line with the government’s risky strategy, and his use of dismissive name-calling rather than negotiation with unions (BMA backs teaching unions’ opposition to schools reopening, 15 May) highlights the extent of unaccountable power wielded by unelected and tax-funded private academy founders. The dreadful consequences of the neoliberal dismantling of local government and democratic public control becomes more evident daily in this crisis.
Ian McCormack

I am a teaching assistant and have been told to be in work on 1 June. When I asked what safety measures would be in place, I was told I would be with 15 children and one teacher. Apparently no social distancing is required as that is too hard to enforce with four-year-olds, and we will wash our hands. I asked if I could use my own homemade mask, but we are not allowed to wear them, even though children regularly cough and sneeze on us. I replied that I do not feel safe and will not risk spreading the virus to my asthmatic son and husband. I believe we are putting the health of these children at great risk.
Name and address supplied

Michael Gove tells councils they should “look to their responsibilities” and open schools (Report, 17 May). I note that MPs haven’t as yet had the courage to sit in the House of Commons in great numbers, but presumably if not too many children and teachers die then MPs might consider it. If I were cynical I might suggest that Mr Gove is bowing to pressure from big business to free up parents to go back to work.
Sue Boulding
Stanwardine, Shropshire

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