The NEU has published a far-reaching plan for education to address the urgent needs of all our children and young people. In contrast to Tory hypocrisy, they are providing a much-needed real focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also acknowledge the need many will have to combat social isolation. This requires a significant additional investment in education which is so sorely needed to meet the challenges of an uncertain future.
- Disadvantaged children and young people and their families must be a key priority. They must not become casualties of COVID.
- Local authorities must be properly funded to make a summer holiday local offer to children and young people. Local authorities should coordinate the planning of summer holiday clubs, particularly in areas of deprivation, so that children and young people have a safe place to go to and positive activities to engage and interest them, and build their confidence for a successful return to school in September. Places for those on Free School Meals should be fully funded by Government.
- Children and young people living in poverty and low- income homes must be given the resources they need to learn at home, including access to books and creative resources, as well as technology. 700 thousand children live in homes without internet access. This must be provided by government so that these children are able to access on-line learning. Free laptops must be provided for children who do not have them so that they are able to access online learning at home.
- We know childhood poverty and inequality limits life chances and is a significant factor in school achievement. We must not lose a generation because the pandemic makes even more children poor. This requires a ‘can do’ mentality – around unemployment, training and benefits as well as direct support to schools.
- A national plan for children’s wellbeing should be resourced and launched to support children who suffered trauma in the pandemic and students’ well-being must be placed at the centre of how we adapt education to meet the needs of children and young people.
- Public buildings, such as libraries and sports halls, civic centres and religious buildings should be used to expand the space available to schools so that social distancing can be achieved, with greater numbers of pupils being educated in non-school settings, if not in schools.
- Class sizes should be smaller.Qualified teachers who have left the profession should be encouraged to return to teaching. They will be needed. This will help all children who have gone through a traumatic time during the crisis, and in particular disadvantaged children who will benefit greatly from lower pupil/teacher ratios.
- GCSE and A levels must be changed to provide a fair assessment of young people’s attainment. They cannot be expected to cover all of the current syllabus because they have had less teaching time. This could involve a combination of teacher assessment and slimmed down exams, with more choice of questions. Whatever the decisions made, teachers, pupils and their parents need to know that the emergency measures adopted for GCSE and A level exams in 2020 will not be repeated in 2021. Government will need to reassure all those involved that this will be a fair process that will not disadvantage young people and their futures. Primary SATs should not take place because they are mainly a school accountability measure and will not be comparable to previous or subsequent years.
- Plans must be made for blended learning – pupils learning at school and at home – from September and into the next academic year, with all pupils having both face-to-face contact and remote learning when this is safe. These plans will be needed in case of a second spike or a rise in a local R rate. This must be resourced by government and teachers supported to develop blended learning as has happened in Scotland.
Schools and their pupils have had to adapt quickly to extraordinary circumstances. They have risen to this challenge, often with little or unclear guidance from Government. But this cannot happen again. Our children and young people deserve, at last, to be placed at the top of the list of government priorities – they deserve a government which plans ahead and for a government that should learn to listen and cooperate with teaching professionals, their unions and their local authorities – to listen to those who daily dedicate their lives to teaching children and who cannot possibly care more, or possibly have more of a stake in what happens to their pupils, than they already do.
It’s essential for all of our futures that we get this right. Schools, their families and their children must not be left to struggle through on their own ever again.