Alongside a number of other colleagues across the country, I have been in a privileged position (?) to advise and support government officials throughout the present crisis. The SEND Reference Group has tried to ensure that the government is aware of the reality that many of our young people, families and schools are facing. I felt that, up until last week, our influence had been considerable. We had been in a position where we were planning, using available risk assessments, in a controlled and measured manner, with an ambition of getting all children and young people back into schools at the earliest date possible. The Government appears to have disregarded all professional advice (and an awful lot of parental advice) and has now made a proclamation that could be argued is ill-fated and ill-informed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to see as many children and young people back in our organisations as soon as possible. I want to ensure everyone’s safety. However, what I don’t want to do is to keep opening and closing schools.
As many of you are aware, the majority of the children and young people in our schools will struggle to adhere to social distancing protocols! There are many reasons for this – and it’s absolutely fine.
So our planning, up until last week, was centred around individual needs. It included smaller group sizes, more space in rooms, extra staff support where required, a revised curriculum model and extended use of outdoor spaces. It was likely to have meant staggered starts, part time timetables, a continuation of our virtual offer etc. etc. Our teams had spent the last 6 weeks meticulously planning for this eventuality. I totally accept it was a far from perfect solution but it felt like a step in the right direction towards a more normal schooling experience. It felt, to me, like it was based on agreements that we had all collectively made. It was a local solution developed using co-production principles. A local solution for our communities. With one statement, Gavin Williamson threw most of this planning out of the window.
I have a number of worries.
First of all transport and secondly transport. I’m aware the government hasn’t, as yet, advised around transporting children and young people to and from schools. When we previously worked with our LAs we figured out, to adhere to some sort of social distancing, we would need over 400 minibuses!! So that’s clearly not possible. We’d therefore thrown around a few ideas. However, all children in all schools will prove incredibly challenging. The logistics alone – coming in and going home will need careful thinking. Not getting this part right has the potential of “popping” our carefully constructed bubbles.
So what, I hear you say? This is where it gets tricky. If any of our children or staff become symptomatic we have to shut down that “bubble” for 14 days and all participants in the bubble have to self-isolate. The school will then have to try and “track and trace” all people (children, young people, staff, parents and visitors) who may have had contact with each other. I can’t stress enough how challenging this will be. The government has said it will provide new guidance next week – let’s wait and see what it brings! This virus continues to be a hugely serious infection that can have particularly profound effects. The Office for National Statistics, yesterday, released really alarming figures relating to people with additional needs.
Provisional counts of the number of deaths and age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) involving the coronavirus (COVID-19) between 1 March and 30 April 2020 in the UK.
Carefully and considered appears to have gone out of the window in favour of ….. well, I guess we’ll all have a view?
As always we will do our very best to follow the government advice. As CEO, I will be ensuring that all our heads and staff teams continue to work closely with our families – we will NOT be fining you if you choose to keep your child at home.
In conclusion, my concerns are based on the simple fact that the announcement last week didn’t appear to be driven by the available science and collated data analysis. It still feels risky.
I do not want to have to keep opening and closing our schools over the next 6 months, causing even more disruption to your children and to your lives. More importantly, I do not want to make mistakes that lead to a catastrophic event.
We are going to have a busy Summer.
You can find all Graham’s previous updates and blog entries here