Drop plan to reopen primaries to all, minister told

School governors want ministers to drop plans for all primary pupils in England to return before the summer holidays.

The first wave of children is due back from Monday but the government wants all primary pupils in class for the last four weeks of term.

This ambition piles pressure on schools “when actually it wouldn’t be safe”, said Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association.

Ministers say the return of all pupils will depend on updated safety advice.

Last week the schools minister Nick Gibb told MPs any decision on whether all pupils should return would be led by the science, and no decision had as yet been made.

Many schools have been open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children throughout the lockdown, with all the others attempting to follow the primary curriculum at home.

From Monday, the government wants all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to their classrooms, with no more than 15 pupils per class.

This means every class of 30 would have to be spread across two classrooms.

Under these rules, if all year groups went back, there would not be enough classrooms in the vast majority of primary schools.

Ms Knights has written to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, “asking him to review and to drop” the expectation that all primary pupils should be back at school for the last four weeks of term.

“Unless something dramatic changes very soon in terms of the government’s scientific and medical advice, it will simply not be possible for primary schools to invite all pupils back for a whole month of education before the summer holidays,” she told the BBC.

“Indeed many of them won’t be able to invite all pupils back at all before the summer holidays…

“It is adding to uncertainty for parents, but also extra pressure on school leaders and governing boards who think that they need to try and do this when actually it wouldn’t be safe.”

Mr Williamson has not as yet responded to the letter.

Deep cleaning

Just over 2,350 governors shared their plans for the return of pupils with the BBC.

Many say, even with the limited numbers due to return in the first phase, they are already having to ask pupils to attend part-time, due to space constraints and the need for deep cleaning to keep the virus at bay.

Of the governors who answered a BBC snapshot questionnaire:

About four in five said they were able to accept pupils from all the eligible year groups.

About a third of the schools are planning rota systems, for example with one half of pupils attending school for two days at the start of the week, and the other half for two days at the end, with a day for deep cleaning in between.

There are wide variations in the numbers of parents who have committed to sending their children to school from Monday, with some schools expecting almost everyone, and others just a handful.

‘Getting feral’

Of the 2,350 governors asked whether it would be possible to have all pupils back for the last four weeks of term, 1,682 said this was unlikely or very unlikely.

“It would be physically impossible to bring all pupils back with reduced class sizes – we do not have the extra classrooms or staff to accommodate them safely,” one governor wrote.

“It is going to be challenging enough to get Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils back into school, respecting all of the social distancing and also providing spaces for key worker and vulnerable children. This will take up all the classroom space in the school and use up all of the staff who are available,” wrote another.

However, another expressed frustration at being unable to welcome all children back to school immediately, saying parents “need a break and the children are getting feral”.

Overall, governors expressed concerns about the pressure placed on themselves and on headteachers by the pandemic.

“I can only say that the professionalism of our team has shone through and for everyone’s sake we hope the advice is right and that safe and effective learning returns for some and continued remote learning carries on for others,” said Nick Horslen, chair of governors at Kings Wood Primary and Nursery School in High Wycombe.

“The situation is a long way from ideal but the creativity and determination to help children is the constant priority.”

Schools in Wales do not have a date for returning and schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland are going back in August.

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‘Students like the flexibility’: why online universities are here to stay

The coronavirus pandemic has forced UK universities to rapidly shift online, and no date has been confirmed for campuses to reopen. With the second coronavirus peak projected to take place in autumn, many institutions are already planning to move at least their first semester online. Whatever happens, universities are not going to look how their students expect for some time.

So if universities are online, will students still come? New research suggests that 20% of students are reconsidering plans to start university in the autumn – a possible 120,000 student shortfall. Yet so far, the University and College Admissions Service reports that very few have reneged on their offers. And for those already at university, a National Union of Students survey found that almost half of students were happy with their online learning.

‘I can’t get motivated’: the students struggling with online learning

Katie Barrett, a student at the University of West England, has enjoyed her online experience so far. “I’m still getting all my lectures and seminars, so the learning itself hasn’t been disrupted much,” she says. “My lecturers are doing extra Q&As via Zoom, for example, so some of the material actually feels more accessible.”

These positive experiences may permanently transform universities, believes Vijay Govindarajan, a business innovation professor at Dartmouth College in the US. “Universities can create high-quality multimedia experiences online. Lectures can be recorded in HD and reused, so more of professors’ time can be spent on interacting with students. This will improve the overall quality of learning,” he says. “Online learning might have been a long time coming in higher education, but it’s here to stay.”

Online learning shouldn’t be seen as a quick-fix solution to the pandemic. Allison Littlejohn, director of the UCL Institute of Education’s knowledge lab, cautions that quality online courses take time and effort to create. “It’s crucial the online learning experience is well-designed and we don’t simply shift existing content from one format to another,” she says.

Equally, for many students, the value of university goes deeper than coursework and qualifications. Research by Universities UK found that almost 60% of students and recent graduates felt the social element of the campus experience helped them broaden their life experience, become more independent and confident, and develop skills like teamwork and time management.

Charles Craig, who studies music business at Leeds College of Music, worries about the lack of networking and entrepreneurship opportunities if the rest of his degree is delivered online. “Engaging with the content and tutors is more difficult online. I hate the distortion you get on video calls and the awkward sound delays make it hard to speak at the right time,” he adds.

“Learning remotely isn’t the same as the visceral experience of expressing and debating ideas in a physical space,” agrees Jesper Ryynänen, a student at the London School of Economics (LSE). “I chose LSE for its public events and renowned speakers, yet there’ll be none of that this semester.”

Some students may feel that paying the same fees for digital versions of their courses would be poor value. The tuition for Ryynänen’s one-year MSc at the LSE is £29,000 – far more expensive than fully online options from renowned names like Harvard University and Wharton Business School.

Craig doesn’t think he would have applied had he known. “Shorter courses and masterclasses run by industry experts might have been a better option than an online degree,” he says.

Craig’s view reiterates an international survey in 2019 commissioned by Pearson, which suggested that today’s learners are increasingly interested in vocational and shorter programmes, especially online. If they move online, universities will have to compete with new formats, including coding bootcamps like Le Wagon, Codeworks and Northcoders. These offer quicker, cheaper courses in subjects such as web development and data science with in-built industry connections.

But moving university courses online due to the coronavirus pandemic is expected to cost the higher education sector £1bn. UK universities will be keen to ensure their investment in digital transformation is for the long term, especially after years of lagging behind universities in other countries.

One barrier could be cultural change. When Times Higher Education surveyed 200 university leaders in 2018, all of them agreed that online learning could never replace the physical university experience.

Kendrick Oliver, a professor at the University of Southampton, agrees. “Nothing can replace the classroom experience. Being physically together in a space means rich communication, and more energy and experimentation from everyone involved. But he acknowledges: “Habit and routine are powerful. Months of online working will make digital more of a default.”

There are also reputational risks to moving online, says Jovana Karanovic, a researcher in digital platforms at VU Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “Online learning may produce a precarious gig economy to connect students and educators,” she explains. “This competitive, fragmented learning landscape could raise accountability issues, prompt a loss of academic expertise and lower teaching standards.” She adds that universities will also need to invest in proper staff training.

But there are benefits to online learning: it can widen access to education to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go. This is already happening in the US, where online education is more established, especially among lower-income students. Last month, Southern New Hampshire University, the country’s fastest-growing university, announced that it has used online learning to enable it to slash its tuition fees by 61%.

This may echo the recent shift in the UK away from the “boarding school” model of higher education and towards more students commuting to campus. Research by the Sutton Trust highlights that the number of students choosing to live at home while they study has increased, largely to save money.

The future of UK universities may lie in mixing online curriculums and offline experiences, known as blended learning. Many are already planning to introduce this to enable social distancing on campus. “[This] can enhance students’ experience of studying,” says Michael Horn, co-founder of the Christensen Institute, a global education thinktank. “I expect to see a lot more universities offering blended courses post-pandemic.”

No campus lectures and shut student bars: UK universities’ £1bn struggle to move online

Prior to the pandemic, some innovative UK universities already offered blended learning. Among these is the University of East Anglia (UEA), which introduced online modules to reach the most disadvantaged students, and plans to scale them up post-pandemic. Its crime fiction MA, for example, is delivered primarily through virtual learning but includes intensive “residencies” on campus to meet industry professionals and participate in a national crime fiction festival.

Henry Sutton, designer of the crime fiction programme, says the university recognised the potential of new course approaches early on. “The MA launched in 2015 using the technology we already had,” he explains. “Students tell us they like the flexibility, they find the residential aspects valuable, and their communication with peers is more considered.”

Meanwhile, other universities are following suit. A consortium of 10 universities led by Coventry was recently awarded £3.7m to develop partly online postgraduate conversion courses in artificial intelligence and data science.

According to Sarah Barrow, UEA’s pro-vice-chancellor for arts and humanities, the pandemic represents “a revolutionary moment”. She expects the shift online to kickstart a lifelong learning agenda. This has already been discussed as a way to skill up employees whose jobs will become automated in the future, but which universities have been slow to implement.

The challenge now is the scale and pace of change. “We’ve adapted and brought forward our plans, but this is disruption on an unprecedented scale,” says Barrow. “It normally takes two years to create a new course or module. Now we’re designing and launching online options in a matter of weeks.”

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Schools in England will reopen on 1 June, PM says

Parents and teachers should prepare for the phased reopening of schools in England to start on 1 June as planned, the prime minister has confirmed.

Boris Johnson said the government intended to reopen for early years pupils, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

The week after, up to a quarter of Year 10 and Year 12 will be allowed “some contact” to help prepare for exams.

Schools closed on 20 March, except for key workers’ children and vulnerable children, as Covid-19 spread in the UK.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Mr Johnson said he was setting out the government’s intention so teachers and parents could “plan in earnest” for school to resume in just over a week.

He said the formal decision would be taken as part of the three-week review into the lockdown measures, which the government is legally required to carry out by Thursday.

With many teachers expressing concerns about wider reopening, Mr Johnson said he acknowledged that it “may not be possible” for all schools, adding that the government will support those “experiencing difficulties” to reopen as soon as possible.

Mr Johnson said reopening schools was a crucial part of the next phase of the government’s response to the pandemic because “the education of our children is crucial for their welfare, their health, their long-term future and for social justice”.

“So in line with the decisions taken in many other countries, we want to start getting our children back into the classroom in a way that is as manageable and as safe as possible,” he said.

The proposal had prompted concerns from teaching unions, head teachers and many local authorities.

Speaking after the prime minister’s announcement, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the union did not agree that it would be right to reopen more widely.

He called on the government to “engage meaningfully” with unions to address concerns over issues such such as protective equipment for staff and procedures for dealing with an outbreak.

A BBC Breakfast survey with responses from 99 councils found that only 20 were advising schools to open more widely on 1 June.

Another 15 said they would not be advising schools to reopen to more pupils and 68 said they could not guarantee reopening for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 as the government intended.

The timetable also sets England apart from other parts of the UK, where schools are not expected to open until later. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted after the prime minister’s briefing “to avoid a resurgence we must move carefully”.

Schools in Scotland are scheduled to begin to reopen on 11 August, the beginning of the autumn term. In Northern Ireland, they are not expected to reopen before September.

And Wales has ruled out a return to school on 1 June, with the education minister saying only that they will reopen “when it is safe to do so”.

The government “has not done a good job in building confidence”, said head teachers’ leaders.

This tough report card wasn’t about political events – but the way that reopening schools in England is being handled.

Boris Johnson repeated the aim for opening primary schools on 1 June – although at the same time acknowledging the reality that many will not really open, with teachers’ unions and some local authorities and parents not convinced of its safety.

There are some adjustments. Secondary school pupils in Years 10 and 12 will now go back from 15 June.

The first few primary year groups are still set to return on 1 June. But heads still have no explanation for how for the last month of term they are meant to fit all their primary years into school full-time, while at the same time only allowing 15 children per classroom.

A lack of trust still seems to be confusing plans for a return to school – only a week before children should be getting ready for their first day back since March.

Mr Johnson said teaching unions, head teachers and local authorities in England would be able to “ask questions and probe the evidence” further over the coming days and said that “detailed guidance” had been published setting out how to ensure safety.

That included smaller classes, staggered times for breaks, drop-offs and pick-ups, and reducing the use of shared items, the prime minister said.

Staff and students would have access to coronavirus testing, he said, and “if they test positive we will take the appropriate reactive measures”.

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Schools may open over summer, warns ex-Ofsted boss

Summer holidays may have to be cancelled for some pupils, a former Ofsted chief inspector has said.

Sir Michael Wilshaw warned that year groups about to take exams may need to make up for lost time during the summer break.

A decision on when to reopen schools is widely expected on Thursday.

The Department for Education (DfE) said there were no plans to cancel holidays and a teaching union said the idea was “not realistic”.

As part of the government’s road map to lifting lockdown, schools can begin to be reopened from 1 June – however this will be dependent on the rate the virus is spreading at – the R number – staying low.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan for England on 10 May and said primary schools would be reopened as part of the second wave of relaxations to lockdown but only for those in reception, year one and year six.

Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Sir Michael said some children, including the poorest, “have regressed” during lockdown.

“That’s a great shame because we want every year group to have the same opportunities as the others,” he said, adding that it is the responsibility of schools and head teachers when the lockdown ceases to put in place recovery programmes, which might mean cancelling holidays.

He warned of “a lost generation of youngsters”.

“We’ll wait and see,” he said.”What is absolutely clear is that a lot of youngsters have lost a considerable amount of time while this lockdown has taken place.”

A DfE spokesman said “The Education Secretary has said that we are not planning to run schools through the summer.”

“But we are working with partners to look at what additional measures may be required to ensure every child has the support they need to deal with the impact of coronavirus on their education.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The idea of opening up schools and colleges over the summer holiday does not seem realistic.”

He added: “We also need to be conscious that many teachers have been working flat out on remote learning, running emergency provision in schools, and sorting out centre-assessed grades for students whose GCSE and A-level exams have been cancelled.”

Other nations have set their own policies with Scotland and Northern Ireland not reopening schools until August at the earliest.

The Welsh government has said it will not reopen schools on 1 June – although it has not outlined its own timetable – and First Minister Mark Drakeford has criticised the government’s preparedness.

Teaching unions and councils have raised concerns about the safety of pupils and staff if schools were to reopen.

Sir Michael said while it was the time to reopen schools it was “critical” that parents are confident it is safe to do so.

“It is all right opening up schools but if parents lack that confidence they are not going to send [children] in,” he said.

He also described social distancing for five-year-olds to be “like herding cats”.

While parents will be “strongly encouraged” to send their children to school, unless a member of the household is in the shielded group, fines for unauthorised absence will not be reintroduced on 1 June, the DfE said.

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Eileen Dooley obituary

My grandmother, Eileen Dooley, who has died aged 94, was a social worker turned sociology teacher who spent most of her life in London after moving to Britain from her native Ireland as a child.

The eldest of five children (a sixth died in infancy), Eileen was born in Cappagh, County Tipperary, to Patrick Barry-Ryan, a doctor, and his wife, Joanna (nee Ryan). Her father died after a road accident when she was nine, an event that affected her profoundly. As a result she was sent with her sisters to Britain to a Catholic boarding school, the Convent of Notre Dame, in Teignmouth, Devon, where she eventually became head girl.

After school Eileen studied sociology at the London School of Economics during the second world war, during which time the LSE was evacuated to Cambridge. After graduating she worked in London for Sainsbury’s as their in-house almoner (social worker) and in 1951 she married Denis Dooley, an anatomist who had worked under Alexander Fleming on the development of penicillin.

Moving to Wimbledon, south-west London, Eileen continued her work at Sainsbury’s while bringing up two children. However, she eventually decided on a switch into education, and took up a job teaching sociology at the St Thomas More school in Chelsea, where she was also the school counsellor.

At that time she also became a magistrate in the juvenile court, in which role she always prioritised the emotional well-being of any children involved. Subsequently she became an active member of the Catholic Prisoners’ Family Charity (now Pact).

Her final teaching position was at the Ursuline Convent school, Wimbledon, from which she retired in 1986. She then mentored and supported young people whose circumstances were less privileged than her own. She was also a familiar face at Irish community centres across London.

A lover of France and the French language, an enthusiasm that had begun during a spell in the country in her late teens, she took an A-level in French in her 70s. Though an active woman she never did any physical exercise, and if asked why not, would reply: “I just don’t do movement.”

Denis died in 2010. She is survived by her children, Michael and Johanna, and her sister Patricia.

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