The coronavirus pandemic has presented our country with many issues that we’ve had to face and navigate together. Perhaps one of the most crucial and difficult of these issues has been making sure our children have had access to education throughout lockdown and can now return to school safely.
However, any readers who have children or grandchildren will know that the reopening of schools has been far from smooth. I’ve been inundated with messages from local people whose children have gone into school only to be sent home immediately because someone in their 100-strong ‘bubble’ has symptoms.
Teachers are being asked to self-isolate for fortnights at a time because they simply can’t access tests. At the same time, schools haven’t been provided with any extra funding to make sure that their classrooms and facilities are Covid-secure, leaving them with precious little for the everyday needs of children.
Headteachers are tearing their hair out with the inadequate guidance that has been provided, which basically serves to pass the buck and the entirety of the decision-making on to them without any of the support or help they need to protect their children or teachers.
As is often the case, children with special educational needs (SEN) have been hit particularly hard as they simply haven’t been considered properly. It was obvious months ago that coronavirus was going to create particular problems for special schools, which support children who require personal and one-to-one care.
The government should have provided these schools with the guidance, funding and support they needed to overcome these challenges. But it completely failed to do so.
Now more and more parents in Sheffield are telling me that they are home-educating their children, not out of choice but because there aren’t enough places available in special schools. That simply isn’t acceptable.
The SEN system was in crisis even before the coronavirus pandemic but the situation is now even worse, and it’s children who will suffer as a result.
We need to see children back in school. When schools are closed, we see deep inequalities become more entrenched, and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds lose out most. But the government needs to get a grip of the situation.
The Prime Minister must ensure that schools get the support the need to stay open safely and that pupils get all the help they need to catch up. No child should be left behind because of government incompetence.