Younger children should return to school first when lockdown lifted - Ofsted boss

PUBLISHED: 11:26 03 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:26 03 May 2020

File photo of a closed school. Picture: Tim Goode/ PA

File photo of a closed school. Picture: Tim Goode/ PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Calls have been made for younger pupils to return to schools first when the coronavirus lockdown lifts.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said last week that the Government did not have a fixed date for reopening schools but ruled out the prospect of them opening over the summer holidays.

The Head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman said today that younger pupils needed “routine” and, from parents’ perspectives, were those who needed the most “care and oversight”.

MORE: Schools will reopen in ‘phased manner’, but not over summer holidays

In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, the Ofsted chief inspector also said it is in all children’s best interests that they return to the classroom “as soon as possible”, but there is no single “no-brainer answer” on how to do so.

Ms Spielman told the show: “There’s a great deal of logic in targeting younger children.

“We know that making normality for children is really important, the younger the children, the more they need that simple structured routine where they understand what’s happening.

“It’s hard for them to go to school one day and then not for another two weeks. So I entirely recognise and see the logic of this.

“I also think there’s a logic from the point of view of parents. The youngest children are the ones who need the greatest care and oversight.

MORE: Children and parents have risen brilliantly to lockdown challenge - so will need a summer holiday

“It’s hardest for parents to work and do all the other things they need to do if they’re also looking after perhaps several young children at the same time and trying to make sure they work through schoolwork remotely.

“If you look at the interests of children, it’s very clear that their interests are best served, in the vast majority of cases, by being back at school as soon as possible.”

Ms Spielman said it is in the “hands of the health experts” to say what is safe and how education could be organised, and she “wouldn’t want to second guess that for one moment”.

She went on to say that she believes many ideas about a return to school are being discussed, adding “as we can see from other countries, there doesn’t seem to be one no-brainer answer”.

Her comments come amid reports that discussions are under way on whether some children, such as the youngest age groups, could return to school early in the next months.

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The Ofsted boss also said questions over how far children could have fallen behind in their education due to being out of school are “really hard” to answer at this point

She highlighted different groups, including pupils with special educational needs, those who struggle to access technology and equipment to take part in schooling from home, those living in “cramped” households and children who “just aren’t very motivated”, saying “we should be really clear that we don’t need to measure precisely which children are being disadvantaged, it’s just very clear that a lot are”.

Ms Spielman also said it is right that Ofsted is not inspecting the education schools are currently offering, saying the “vast majority” are putting in effort to provide online classes, resources and learning packs for their pupils to study at home and that it would be “wrong” to judge that “in the absence of any clear expectation”.

Robert Halfon said that delays to primary schooling have an “enormous effect” on children’s education and skills later on in life and that it is his preference that early years education and primary schools would open first when possible to do so.

Mr Halfon, who is chairman of the Commons education select committee, also told Sky News he believes that parents will want their children’s education to resume.

“I understand there are huge anxieties about ending the lockdown, people want to make sure we look after the health of themselves and their families.

“I also see that parents want to know their children are educated.”

He added that he believes that parents will be “keen to send their children back to school as the science allows”.

Mr Halfon also said he would support “some kind of summer school” run not by teachers but by volunteers.

Asked about lessons running through the traditional six-week summer break, he said: “I wouldn’t want to put an extra burden on teachers, many of whom are exhausted and have been displaying incredible courage.”

He added there may be a way to have “some kind of summer school” not staffed by existing teachers but an “army of volunteers”, including retired teachers and Ofsted inspectors.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “While we all want to see a return to some sort of normality the National Education Union believes it’s really premature to talk about a June return date.

“Instead the Government should be providing evidence about how this can be safe, how many more fatalities would we expect to see amongst school staff and parents and how these can be prevented or minimised.”

MORE: ‘Cancel school summer holidays and get children back in class as soon as possible’

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