Climbing The Hill
Why Our Schools Need to Open Again
The biggest challenge we face is not whether our schools should re-open the week beginning June 1st - it is dealing with the crippling impact of poverty, caused by years of austerity and political indifference. This is why we will do all we can to open our schools after half term.
The Inspire Partnership was formed with a clear mission to transform the lives of children living in some of the most difficult environments. We have all witnessed the effect the Covid-19 has had across the country, none more so than where the poorest live. With measures in place and by following strict guidelines to ensure staff and children are protected, on balance, it is better our pupils return to school. Better emotionally, physically and developmentally.
Research from The World Bank, suggests the impact of Covid-19 is likely to create the biggest increase in global poverty for over two decades. We are eye witnesses to an unprecedented tragedy where a disease has attacked the most vulnerable, on multiple fronts, threatening to polarise communities. It has exposed the truth that not all people in our country are treated fairly or equally.
According to a recent Guardian report, we now have more foodbanks than branches of McDonalds. Child poverty is predicted to surpass 4.3 million children, (levels not seen for over 20 years), with low paid workers predicted to be hit hardest, pushing more households below the poverty line. Contrary to what Michael Gove said on the Andrew Marr Show, (Sunday 17th May), all indicators highlight that the societal gaps in achievement, happiness, well-being and mental health have widened not narrowed. The figures below from the latest Good Childhood Report and the Social Mobility Commission speak for themselves.
I completely accept that the decision to re-open schools is emotive, has unknown consequences and is bound by school context. Many staff and parents are fearful, not fully confident in whether government advice is driven by science or ideology. No school leader or staff member should feel judged or persecuted when making decisions which balance so delicately between personal and professional life. Good communication is critical so that we can provide the necessary reassurances that we have children AND staff interests in our hearts. So far we have conducted extensive risk assessments, are making 1:1 phone calls with parents and staff, holding individual meetings which take circumstance into account.
On June 1st, we put plans into effect, starting with training for all staff. We will walk through, in small groups, our plans in fine detail. This will include, which entrances pupils will use, managing lunch and break times, dealing with social distancing and what to do in the event a child chooses not to follow the rules. Everything requires consideration and thanks to a dedicated, committed group of staff, we have just enough time to make sure our plans are robust and deliverable.
But the children must return. Our schools serve some of the poorest families in the country. We know the impact on well-being, physical health and academic success school closures is having. We have seen this and feel it acutely. Statistically, young people growing up in our poorest households, through no fault of their own, are most likely to become poor adults themselves. Our mission is to break this pernicious cycle.
Social media is full with parents making jokes about the struggles of teaching children from home. It has become a national source of light relief. While ITV ad campaigns adorn celebs instructing us how to embrace technology during lock down, less acknowledged are the struggles of pupils with limited access to Wi-fi or the child struggling to complete learning tasks from a bedsit. This is the reality (or worse) for over 40 percent of our children. Many have no access to garden play spaces, are dependent on charity and have limited exposure to the resources and cultural capital we try so hard in school to compensate for. If we do not make the decision to open for such children, we risk the values, which stand proud in school entrances, becoming intended rather than lived.
Over the years, education has been politicised to the point where even our curriculum has been determined by the views of people who have never taught or worked in communities such as ours. For too long, decisions in education have been made by people who carry none of the associated risk - even fewer have walked in the shoes of our children. If Covid-19 has taught me anything it is the need for us as a profession to determine the future. Revolutions begin from classrooms, not ministerial offices. This requires us making decisions about opening our schools, under strict controls and guidance, but in the way that works for us, determined by us.
We have always spoken about giving our children the gift to become change makers for the future. By taking careful, measured steps to gradually allow children back to school, we are fulfilling that promise.