Children’s Commissioner has called for school reopening plan for families

The Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has said families need "hope and clarity" about what will come next for children's education.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that schools should open "as soon as possible" and called on ministers to set out at Downing Street press conferences what progress is being made towards reopening.

Ms Longfield warned that the closure of schools has had an "enormous impact" on children - affecting their mental health and widening the gap in learning.

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"Children are more withdrawn, they are really suffering in terms of isolation, their confidence levels are falling, and for some there are serious issues."

The Children’s Commissioner has called for school reopening plan for families. Pictured, pupils wearing protective face masks at Outwood Academy Adwick in Doncaster, when schools in England reopen to pupils in September last year, following the first coronavirus national lockdown. Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PAPhoto

She added: "This is something for which families around the country will need hope and clarity about what comes next, and that of course is what the speculation we're hearing really feeds into - that confusion - but also worry about where they as a family go from here."

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It comes as Conservative MPs are asking the government to set out a "route map" for the reopening of schools in England, amid growing concern about the impact of closures on children's education.

The government has said it is "too soon" to say when schools will reopen to all pupils.

Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield. Photo credit: PA

But it will not be until after the February half-term at the earliest.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those in the North and across the region, have shown to be the most at risk of seeing a widening education gap, reported on extensively by The Yorkshire Post during the pandemic, as they are more likely to face problems accessing fast broadband, digital devices and adequate space in which to work.

A Yorkshire-based education charity has said producing a "clear road map," for the return of schools must be the greatest priority in ensuring an already widen gap in outcomes for the most disadvantaged children are not further exacerbated in the wake of the pandemic,

Chief executive of Leeds-based education charity Shine, Fiona Spellman, said: "Children, parents and teachers are all struggling with home schooling, and nowhere is this more acute than in the most disadvantaged parts of the North, where children have already faced repeated periods out of school due to high community infection rates.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially those in the North and across the region, have shown to be the most at risk of seeing a widening education gap, reported on extensively by The Yorkshire Post during the pandemic.

"These issues are widening the disadvantage gap that already exists between children from poorer families and their better-off peers.

"The government must absolutely produce a roadmap so that parents, teachers and children can understand the criteria against which schools can reopen more fully, and in addition, children and their families need additional support now to ensure more equitable access to learning."

Ms Spellman has also called for an "extraordinary uplift" to the Pupil Premium this year to aid with the widening gap.

"It is essential so that schools facing the greatest need are equipped with the resources they need to meet this unprecedented challenge," she explained.

Pictured, chief executive of Leeds-based education charity Shine, Fiona Spellman. Photo credit: JPIMediaResell

One school leaders’ union said the Government should have a "proper plan" for reopening schools as soon as possible, with vital needs reassurances about the safety of any school reopening plan .

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "We need not just words about fully reopening schools, but practical actions and a timeline of how to do this in a way that is safe and inspires the confidence of education staff and the public.

He added: "This needs to be supported by prioritising vaccinations for education staff, and sorting out the confusion the government has managed to make over rapid turnaround testing so that this works effectively as another safeguard."

It comes as the Government has said it will tell teachers and parents when schools in England can reopen "as soon as we can".

There will be a Downing Street press conference later, led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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