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

Norfolk and Suffolk's schools must be top of the list to reopen once coronavirus lockdown is lifted,

Norfolk and Suffolk's schools must be top of the list to reopen once coronavirus lockdown is lifted, argues Richard Porritt - Credit: PA

This is going to be unpopular with a lot of young people.

The sensible thing to do once schools are able to reopen is to cancel the marathon six-week holiday and get our children’s education back on track.

It remains many experts’ belief that closing schools was not the right move. In other countries different approaches have been used but it remains too early to judge the impact of the move.

Before lockdown I argued that depending on availability of teaching staff schools should endeavour to remain open. At the time the medical advice to the government appeared to support that view.

However there was a growing public view that schools should shut their doors. And politicians – who rely on votes to keep their jobs – do not like going against popular public opinion.

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But now, as many pupils reach week six without proper lessons the government must put in place plans to get children back at their desks.

It is true that many schools have prepared work for children to complete at home either on their own or in some cases via online classrooms. But this is no substitute for the hands-on teaching provided in normal circumstances.

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The first reason why schools must be top of the list to return to normal is the children themselves.

I would argue that even with the best will in the world parents are not able to provide the skills a highly-trained teacher can.

Tragically, for many children school is their safe place. It is the place where they get properly fed. For those poor youngsters lockdown must be a living hell.

And even for the average child – who has a safe home and loving parents – being away from their place of education for a long period will prove damaging.

And it will – as always – be the poorest that suffer the most. Wealthier parents can afford to pay for extra online activities and lessons for their children. If schools remain closed for much longer it will have a lasting impact on inequality.

But it is more than just the lessons – child need to see their friends, they need to play and have fun. They need to be children.

Most young people thrive on routine and balance. That has been thrown up in the air because of coronavirus and many will be struggling mentally with that.

And there is a wider issue: the economy.

It is predicted that closing schools will amount to a 3pc hit for gross domestic product or GDP. Compare the terrifying drop that GDP will take because of the high street being closed this may seem like a drop on the ocean. But it is significant.

Having children at home will also have hit the East of England’s productivity. Many parents who would not have had to furlough will have been forced to take the tough decision to care for their youngsters.

The impact of that is two-fold: It is costing the taxpayer more money and there is less money for people to spend once we are finally out of lockdown.

The argument about whether schools should have shut is done. It is in the past.

But there is an opportunity to get back on track.

Cancelling the summer holidays would mean children can catch up on lost time – at least to some degree.

It would mean parents who have had to struggling through months of juggling child care and the stress of trying to work can make up some ground.

But more than that it would set the country up to recover from the impact of coronavirus quicker than it would otherwise.

Of course some parents might not want to send their children back. Perhaps they have medical concerns or someone in the household is high risk. In that case sending them back should be their choice.

And let’s face it, coronavirus is not simply going to disappear once lockdown begins to be eased. So there is likely to be times when staffing levels mean classes en masse might have to be sent home.

Perhaps schools can split into two groupings and start back two days a week each to make the groupings of children smaller? A similar part-time plan is already being put in place in the Netherlands.

Former head teacher at King Edward VI School, in Bury St Edmunds, and now Association of School & College Leaders general secretary Geoff Barton believes June 1 is the earliest schools could reopen. Let’s aim for that, ditch the summer break, give our young people the best chance to catch up and our economy the best chance to bounce back.

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