Commissioner Publishes Return To Classroom Advice

The Children's Commissioner has called on the Education Minister to speak directly to young people, parents, and carers about the government's plans for returning to the classroom - to win their confidence.

Deborah McMillan has published her advice to the Minister, which you can read in full here.

Among the advice is:

*To reopen schools in a fair and non-discriminatory way: "It is important to identify a clear, transparent, process that schools will use to prioritise who returns to the classroom. A phased return to school has been suggested in some jurisdictions where the needs of children at certain key stages of learning are prioritised.

"We know that for those children already disadvantaged in their learning may continue to be disadvantaged unless they return to school. Those children already identified as being the most vulnerable children should be prioritised to provide greater equity in access to education. Digital exclusion and inconsistency of the quality of the online education offer means that some children may be discriminated against if they do not return to school. Pupils experiencing digital exclusion, without suitable access to online learning could also be prioritised in a return to the classroom."

Making sure parents and staff are assured that schools are healthy and safe: "Adults who care for children will be looking for things like plenty of handwashing facilities, making sure that PPE is there for those staff that need it and to see those visible signs and be assured that the school is a safe place to be."

Taking young people's views into account: "2,105 children and young people took part in the joint Government and Children’s Commissioner survey during May 2020. 1007 (47.8%) stated that they were worried. Of these, 280 were worries related to school and /or work. 479 were worries around concern for others.

"1,128 said they were feeling excited about returning to school, college, and university. However, 322 said they felt anxious, 105 feeling sad, with 159 concerned about safety. 468 children stated that they would need wellbeing support after the pandemic and lockdown is over. 376 stated that they would need support with education. They have asked for time to return to normality; safety in school; better information provision; and mental health support. It will be imperative to take their views into consideration in any plan to return to classroom-based learning."

Not carrying out a blanket phased return to school approach: "We've got some lovely new schools with wide corridors and lots of open spaces, but haven't we got some tiny schools with limited space. You look at schools like St Luke's in the town which is basically in an old house.

"It has to be on a school-by-school basis, looking at the individual learning needs of the children and the capacity of the school to keep them safe and healthy."

Being alert to bullying because a child or a family member has tested positive: "We have read reports across the UK about children being discriminated against because of their ethnicity or because a member of their family has tested positive.

"What we've also seen through our survey is children have said they quite liked the break from being bullied and that's why they enjoyed homeschooling.

"This is something that schools really must be alert to and put something in place to make sure that these children aren't discriminated against or bullied when they return to school."

Ms McMillan says while there are tensions the Minister will need to balance, any return must not compromise the care, support, and protection of children.

"The timing of any return to classroom-based learning must be guided by the best interests of every child and overall public health considerations. From a child rights point of view, it is an ongoing balancing act: trading off the right to an education and all the social and developmental needs that this involves, with the stark and immediate right to life and survival.

"I would be wanting to hear directly from the Minister. I think the Minister should speak directly to children and should speak directly to parents and caregivers to give them that assurance. Parents should be given the opportunity, maybe, to visit the school to see what the preparations are like so everyone feels confident that all the risks have been mitigated against her they can be."

Schools in Jersey are currently closed until June 1.

The Education Minister has previously stated in a Scrutiny hearing that the major concern is to maintain physical distancing and preventing mass gatherings.

NEU union Jersey president Brendan Carolan has told Channel 103 that he thinks it will be difficult to convince his members that anything different from the Guernsey approach of returning to the classroom, which you can read here, would be acceptable.

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