Returning to school, re-thinking education

There is strong evidence that it is safer for children to be in school than out of it, and that inequalities in education and health only widen with prolonged absence from school. That is why NCB has fully supported the government’s commitment to keeping schools open to as many children as possible. But our support is not unconditional. 

This December, children were asked to cope with a hugely upsetting change to the Christmas holiday arrangements. Now, confused messaging and public disagreements on policy mean that many children have no idea what sort of education to expect when they return in January. For some children, this will mean increased levels of anxiety and psychological distress. 

Identifying the right approach for the return to school should have been settled by Government, unions, head teachers and local authorities working together in the best interests of children. It should have been informed by an understanding of what children and parents are saying is right for them. This has clearly not happened. The Government must now take urgent action to build consensus with its partners and provide clarity and certainty to children and parents on the way forward. 

But there are even bigger issues at stake than the date on which children return to school. Now more than ever, schools must be enabled to prioritise wellbeing ahead of academic progress, giving children the time and space to rebuild relationships with others and build resilience. We must continue to focus on the issue of digital exclusion and schools must be given access to the hardware and expertise they need to meet their obligation to provide a suitable remote education to all children. 

And we must see education in the context of the wider social catastrophe of poverty and hopelessness that is enveloping so many children and families. We need a fundamental re-think of what support this generation of children will need from us, and we must start by asking them what that is. Only once children feel safe and secure can the long task of getting back on track with their education truly begin. Only by working in partnership with children and families can we begin to repair the damage and help them see a brighter future ahead.