Teaching unions’ relief as national lockdown ends debate over Sleaford schools reopening - but say decision should have come sooner

Teaching unions have welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement that schools in Lincolnshire and across the country will close and switch to online learning from today (Tuesday) until the February half term, but insist the decision could have been taken sooner.
Carre's Grammar School EMN-190402-142920001Carre's Grammar School EMN-190402-142920001
Carre's Grammar School EMN-190402-142920001

With concerns that the rapidly rising coronavirus infection rates threaten to overwhelm the NHS hospitals within 21 days if action is not taken, Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown last night.

Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote learning, apart from children of key workers and children that are deemed vulnerable. Nurseries and early years childcare facilities will still open as normal.

Due to disruption in schools, the Prime Minister conceded that it was “not fair” for exams to go ahead as normal in summer. He said alternative arrangements will be made for students affected.

Those entitled to free school meals will still receive them during lockdown, and more tech devices will be given to children who need them, in order to support remote education.

Pre-empting criticism about even allowing schools to reopen after the Christmas holidays, the Prime Minister said: “We have been doing everything within our power to keep education open.

“The problem is not that schools are unsafe for children.”

However, he went on to dub schools “vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.”

It comes after days of pressure from teaching unions and even some Tory MPs that primary schools should not be returning this week and that mass testing in secondary schools was being rushed without staff having time to plan.

Chris Thompson, president of the Lincolnshire branch of the National Education Union, said it was the right decision to lock down and close schools.

He said: “I am very relieved that all schools are to go to online teaching with only children of key workers and vulnerable children in school.

“The fact that schools will be asked to run online until February was a big surprise, but I assume this reflects the extent of the crisis. I am disappointed and very confused as to why this decision was not made last week.

Parents must be pulling their hair out at the chaos of the last few days, but now at least they now have some certainty.”

He went on: “This is definitely the correct decision. Schools moving online will greatly help slow community transmission, protect our over stretched hospitals and save lives.

“All school staff now have a huge amount of work getting ready for these changes, again at very short notice and something that could have been avoided.

“I am particularly pleased that the government are to reconsider the GCSE and A level exams at the end of the year. My thoughts go out to students that are studying these exams for this year have been affected to a far greater extent than those last year. Many schools run trial exams at this time of the year which will only add to their stress. I only hope that they are treated fairly.

“I am also relieved the rushed introduction of mass lateral flow tests to secondary schools will now be suspended. I am not convinced it is appropriate to ask educators to run these tests, but I can see now how the tests can help schools now they have time.”

Schools had already been taking delivery of the tests in readiness.

Mr Thompson said: “To move forward I really do hope that now all those involved in schooling and education, school leaders, the county councils, the government and the unions, can work together to ensure the disruption of the past few days can avoided in the future.

“Always darkest before the dawn, hopefully soon normality will return.”

Primary schools in the area had returned after the Christmas break on Monday, William Alvey School headteacher Stephen Tapley said in addition to earlier precautions, they had now asked all parents to wear a face covering in front of the school and staff will now be wearing visors within the building.

Coun Patricia Bradwell, executive county councillor for children’s services had said yesterday: “School infection figures in Lincolnshire are well below the national average at around one per cent.” She had added: “It’s better for children’s education that they are in school if possible.”

The leader of Carre’s Grammar school and Kesteven and Sleaford High School had welcomed the extra breathing space offered to prepare for the mass testing.

Headteacher Nick Law said letters have gone out, outlining the staggered return of pupils, now is now not taking place.

He said: “With a little foresight and strategic planning schools could have been told sooner as to what would be required, rather than be told on the last day of term and leaders invited to a webinar about the process on December 23.

“We were anxious as to how it could be achieved under the initial timeframe. It was a relief when we were told that we would be given more time to set up our schools as testing sites whilst students start their lessons online.“

Mr Law backed his team, saying: “We feel that our staff have become very skilled at delivering online lessons and supporting remote learning over the last few months.”

Further training would focus on this and mental health and well-being of the school community, including parents who will have to juggle work and home-schooling.