Women’s Equality Party says the Government hasn’t answered parents’ and teachers’ concerns about safety in schools ahead of 1st June deadline.
Schools and nurseries have been closed since the 18th March, other than for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. On 10th May, Boris Johnson made an announcement, with no consultation with nurseries, schools or the education unions, that children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 could return to school on 1st June, and parents could return their children to nurseries, if the science supported it.
Full guidance for schools was not updated until 24th May, one week before they were due to open, and guidance was published for the first time for early years settings on the same date.
During the lockdown period we have been concerned about the widening of existing educational inequalities while schools are closed, meaning some children have greater access to educational and technological resources than others.
We are also keenly aware of the extra burden put on families, especially mothers who bear the brunt of home-schooling and domestic work, many while also juggling their own work. This is especially the case in single-parent families, 90% of which are headed by women.
The questions over when to open schools and the impact of the decision are deeply gendered. In addition to the impact on women as parents, women make up 85.8% of primary school and nursery staff. As the people whose safety is potentially at risk if schools reopen too soon, it is crucial that they are consulted and that their expertise is taken on board.
Schools have never completely closed, they have remained open vulnerable children and for the children of key workers. The central question is not when schools need to open, but how to bring back the other children in a way that is safe for teachers and their families, and for children and their families.
WE are calling on the government to do the following in its planning for schools reopening:
Trust the professionals -
Schools and teachers need to be the guiding voice on what they can and can’t do in terms of opening. They are best placed to say how many students they can safely take, and to prioritise which pupils should return and in what order.
The government must provide clear guidance on making the environment safe with reasonable run-in time. It must also provide personal protective equipment for staff, and additional funding to support schools with any adaptations they need to make to their premises.
Support the parents -
No parent should be forced to choose between their job and their child. For as long as it is unsafe to reopen schools in their entirety, employers should not expect parents to be juggling full-time hours and full-time childcare. We are calling for parents with children up to 16 years of age to have the legal right to be furloughed, with the option of part-time furloughing. Single parents should be able to nominate someone to share part-time furlough with, with equivalent provisions made in the scheme for self-employed parents.
Ensure no child is left behind -
The Government should provide clear guidance for schools on how to provide Distance Learning. Not all teachers have been trained to do it, and there are clear variations in the extent to which schools are able to provide online education. The Government should also provide laptops and internet connection to all families who need it. Despite having committed to do so, many families have not received them yet. WE also support calls to extend the Free School Meals through the summer.
Caroline Hunt, spokesperson
Guilene Marco, movement builder
Equal Education representatives