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‘Across our 14 primary schools we have lost dearly loved relatives and friends’ - why academy trust boss believes schools should remain closed for now

PUBLISHED: 07:31 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:44 04 May 2020

The new testing centre at Copdock is helping reduce the spread of coronavirus in Suffolk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The new testing centre at Copdock is helping reduce the spread of coronavirus in Suffolk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Twenty school days have so far been lost to coronavirus with more to come, writes Claire Flintoff, Chief Executive Officer of ASSET Education.

Gone are the busy, productive classrooms where one teacher skillfully met the immediate needs of every one of their 30 students at once, ensuring understanding, stretching thinking, and teaching carefully planned sequences of learning that ensured whole curriculum coverage.

Overnight this has been replaced by virtual classrooms in isolated settings. Rather than being on their feet all day, leading from the front, checking in on groups and individuals, supervising corridors and playgrounds, educators are spending their days at computer screens uploading activities, recording films, giving remote feedback, checking in on families that need their help and manning the rotas that have kept schools open for the 2% of families who have no other options. For some children and families this is working remarkably well but for most it is extremely challenging.

Although not ideal we all know that this is essential. In the four weeks leading up to March 23 schools were a hotspot for the transmission of Covid-19 and the virus was spreading throughout our communities. Across the country we have lost teachers, school support staff, children and young people. Across our 14 primary schools we have lost dearly loved relatives and friends.

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Although clearly more devastating in older people and those with underlying health conditions, in the last few weeks an ‘urgent alert’ has been issued to doctors in the UK about an ‘apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multisystem inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK’. At a press briefing last week Matt Hancock, Health Secretary said he was ‘very worried’ about signs of a new coronavirus-linked syndrome in children which is being investigated ‘as a matter of urgency’.

We may be desperate for our schools to reopen fully and to get back to some sense of normality but we don’t yet know enough about this deadly virus. In the national arena we watch the debate between economic (and social) survival and the risk of further deaths. We have become accustomed to death figures that are equivalent to several plane crashes every single day. The government is weighing up the risks of lifting the lockdown and the single, most important priority has been to ‘not overwhelm the NHS’. Keeping the level of daily deaths below an amount that would overwhelm our NHS, and easing the lockdown accordingly, is not an acceptable target in a civilised society. If relaxing social distancing measures puts anybody at risk it has to be the wrong policy.

In taking swift action to contain Covid-19 in New Zealand, Jacinda Arden’s government has secured the support of the people and she has lived up to her reputation as an inspirational leader. In New Zealand schools closed completely five weeks ago and only reopened to very small numbers last week. To date there have been 19 deaths in the country as a whole. Circumstances are different there, the virus was not spreading in the community as widely as it was in the UK before their lockdown measures were put in place, but the key message coming from the New Zealand leader is that people’s lives matter the most.

The virus is everywhere in the UK and it will take a mammoth effort to track it down and eradicate it. This is not a war and we should not be using the language of conflict, oppression, power and defeat. We need knowledge about where the virus is and we need to stop it spreading. For the sake of our economy, our social and mental health, and our children’s education and future, we need to prioritise the saving of lives over the pressures that will inevitably be coming from other sectors and be extremely cautious about any relaxing of measures. Now more than ever we need to hold our nerve, look after and direct our resources at the most vulnerable and demonstrate that we are a society that values life.

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