A survey carried out this week by the RSA has found that half of parents do not trust the government over the reopening of schools as the covid-19 lockdown is eased.
Polling carried out this week by Populus on behalf of the RSA – the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – showed that only 44 per cent of the public trust Boris Johnson’s government to put children’s best interests first during the pandemic, while 49 per cent do not.
The results of the survey come as the government is urging primary schools to reopen for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children tomorrow, June 1, as part of a broader set of measures easing lockdown. Yet this move goes against the views of the teaching unions and much scientific opinion, with even government medical advisers appearing to question whether the lockdown is being eased too far and too quickly.
In Italy and Spain, countries which have had lesser death tolls from coronavirus than Britain, schools will not return until September.
The government has said that it will not be compulsory for pupils to return to school this week, and no sanctions will be taken against parents who keep their children at home, as they have been doing since March.
The Populus polling found that while the majority of parents do not trust the government, 84 per cent of them expressed trust in their children’s classroom teachers, and 59 per cent trust the teaching unions.
Recent events have impacted this – 49 per cent feel that the Government is too distracted by the Dominic Cummings affair to be making the right decisions about opening up schools, nurseries and colleges.
Just 13 per cent of those polled think that schools should reopen to all children in June, and one-third support a phased return. A quarter (23 per cent) only want schools to reopen once a vaccine has been found.
When considering how or when schools should be reopened, public health is by far the main priority.
When asked to choose between the three options, 78 per cent think that minimising the risk of infection to pupils and staff is the main priority, compared to just 12 per cent for minimising disruption to education, and 10 per cent enabling parents to return to work; 73 per cent feel that the decision to reopen should be taken by headteachers in consultation with local authorities and following risk assessments, and 50 per cent say that schools should only reopen when teaching unions agree that it’s safe to do so.
Perhaps as a response to the disruption and distress caused by the pandemic, there is strong appetite for greater pastoral support for children: 83 per cent want schools to become more “relational”, ensuring every child has a trusted adult in school they can approach for support, a policy recommended in a recent RSA report on school exclusions.
In response to the crisis, the RSA is calling for a “year of stabilisation” to pull us out of the crisis and build bridges to the future, such as recruiting an army of volunteer teachers, and greater investment in digital learning.
Laura Partridge, the associate director of education at the RSA, said: “Our survey demonstrates a low level of trust in the government, which could affect how parents and teachers respond to plans to reopen schools. The government will need to work closely with headteachers, teachers and local authorities – in whom the public trust – to develop a plan that everyone can support.
“The crisis could also be a time to rethink school priorities.
“Our findings show that the disruption caused by the pandemic has cemented the case for a greater focus on social and emotional support in schools.
“The public want to see a trusted adult allocated to each child in school and more dedicated mental health professionals available to pupils to ensure that children have the support they need to overcome the challenges posed by this crisis, and to build a thriving education system for the future.”
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