Schools cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, says Children's Commissioner

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, has entered the debate about whether schools should reopen for some in June, and has pleaded to unions and the government to work constructively together.

The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has published new research showing how all but two out of 62 nurseries attached to NHS hospitals in England have been able to stay open during the coronavirus lockdown. Only three of these nurseries reported a confirmed case of Covid-19 among children and none reported transmission between children in the nursery.

The Children’s Commissioner’s Office has also looked at the experiences of other countries who have allowed pupils to return and has conducted research to hear about the impact on staff and children in nurseries who have remained open during the lockdown, in order to help inform the debate.

Anne Longfield argues that there is overwhelming evidence that prolonged periods out of school is extremely damaging for all children, but particularly so for vulnerable and disadvantaged children. 

There are also real dangers of a ‘disadvantage gap’ – the disparity in learning and education outcomes between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. Disadvantaged children, already behind in terms of attainment, slip further behind during school holidays. 

Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: "I am disappointed that the debate about when some primary school kids can return has descended into a squabble between Government and the teaching unions. All sides need to show a greater will to work together in the interests of children.

“We know there are thousands of vulnerable children who need to be in school. We know that the longer schools are closed the greater the impact will be on social mobility and that many children are really struggling without seeing their friends and the structure that school brings. We need to face the reality that, for a number of reasons, there are hundreds of thousands of children who can’t access meaningful education at home.

“The decision to bring back children from Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 first is sensible, as these are the year groups who need to be in school most urgently. But we should have an aspiration that all children return to school in some form before the summer and that school buildings are used for activities, summer schools and family support over the holidays. It is now up to the Government and the teaching unions to work together, along with the many teachers who are not in unions, to find solutions in the best interests of children and make this work – while doing all they can keep children and staff safe.

“We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school. It’s time to stop squabbling and agree a staggered, safe return that is accompanied by rigorous testing of teachers, children and families.”

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