A Tory u-turn over the back to school plan this summer could lead to a “lost generation”, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has said.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced yesterday that primary schools in England will not be able to welcome all pupils back before the summer holidays.
It marked a dramatic u-turn after the government aimed to get children back into the classroom for four weeks before the end of the term.
Off school for six months
Almost nine million children will now be off school for six months or more with many not expected to return until September.
Mr Williamson admitted the disruption could leave kids needing “a year or more” of support to catch up.
But Ms Longfield went further, warning that “almost a decade of catching up on that gap may be lost”.
She said: “The risk I am most concerned about is that of a generation of children losing over six months of formal education, socialising with friends and structured routine… The Government need to face up to the scale of damage this is doing to children and scale-up their response.”
Mental health and safeguarding
She said the closures have sparked fears over mental health and safeguarding.
Pupils in England in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 began to return to class last week – though only half of primary schools opened their doors.
The aim was for all primary school years to have a month in class before the end of term. Ministers want secondary schools to reopen in September, but there are doubts this will be possible.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Our approach throughout has been we need to be cautious and the return needs to be phased.”
Pupils in years 10 and 12 will receive some face-to-face time with teachers from June 15, as they prepare for GCSE and A-Level exams.
“The challenge is immense”
Dr Mary Bousted, joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The Government must work with [exam watchdog] Ofqual to redesign GCSE and A-level qualifications so they are fair for all pupils – including those without access to computers at home.
“The challenge is immense. We need a national recovery plan for education along the lines of the job recovery plan.”
Tory MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons Education Committee, said:
“I think we’re a strange country. We turn a blind eye to mass demonstrations, we campaign for pubs and cafes to open, yet we say to open schools before September is too risky when all the evidence – from the World Health Organisation, from many other European countries, from the chief medical officer in the UK – suggests otherwise.
“We are potentially damaging children’s life chances.”