Today (15/05/20), Tom Hunt, Member of Parliament for Ipswich met online with a number of Primary School Heads from Ipswich and Suffolk to discuss the challenges they are facing in the run up to the phased return of some pupils to school from the beginning of June. The Heads set out a number of concerns they have including around the provision of personal protective equipment, the need for clear guidance and the impact of potential new systems on children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Hunt set out his support for a phased and safe return of more children to school from June. But he acknowledged that nobody knew better than Headteachers what will work for their own school on the ground. Hunt emphasised the importance that Headteachers have flexibility when it comes to opening up classrooms to more children and warned against any attempt to impose a top-down approach. This includes Heads being able to set up rota systems where they deem it appropriate. Hunt promised to stand by local teachers and to raise the concerns they have in his ongoing work on the Education Committee. He also committed to supporting them to have a high degree of discretion and flexibility as the phased reopening takes place.
In the meeting, Hunt drew on the large amount of time he has spent on the Education Committee exploring what impact of school closures on children, particularly the most disadvantaged. This includes children who have SEND, who don’t have suitable access to online learning resources, or who may be vulnerable to abuse at home. It is becoming clearer that vulnerable children and those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are most at risk of falling behind during this pandemic. Hunt is keen to see that these children return to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
Following the meeting, Tom said:
“It was important to meet today with a number of Headteachers of schools in Ipswich and Suffolk to hear their latest views on the planned phased return of some primary school pupils from the 1st of June.
“This crisis has interrupted the education of all children and particularly some of the most vulnerable and deprived children in our community who may not have access to things like online lessons or who may even be suffering abuse. There are also concerns for children in key year groups like reception and Year 1 and their readiness and well-being as they prepare to move through the school system.
“This is why the phased reopening of schools to more children from 1 June has my support but I’m also aware that each school is different and each headteacher has their own concerns. And it was good to go into the detail of this during today’s meeting. It’s clear that our local Headteachers must have a degree of autonomy in how children are brought back and there must not be a one-size-fits-all approach across the board. Nobody knows better than them what is needed in their own school and it was encouraging to see the amount of thought each Headteacher I met with has given this subject for each of their schools.
“I will do everything I can as the local MP to support Ipswich’s headteachers in using their discretion and knowledge of their own school to guide this phased return to school. And I will always be ready to make the case to the Government if they need additional support to make sure the phased return to school is as safe and as effective as possible.
“As well as headteachers, I am also listening to the concerns of teachers at all levels and parents in my constituency. I am also supportive of their discretion and I welcome the Government’s announcement that parents will not be penalised for keeping their children at home even if they’re eligible to attend. This phased return to school will work best if all involved are allowed to work together as partners.”