Express & Star comment: Kids set to return to classrooms

The long wait is almost over.

School children in classroom at lesson.
School children in classroom at lesson.

Even in normal times, many youngsters are keen to get back to school, and to see their pals, after the long summer holiday break.

This week they are returning in very abnormal circumstances and after a prolonged absence which has been damaging for their education and damaging socially.

Is there a guarantee that there is no risk? Of course not. But then, life is one long series of risks, and they have to be weighed up and a balanced view taken, otherwise people would go nowhere, do nothing, and achieve nothing – which involve a series of risks in themselves.

The circumstances in which it is safe, which is a relative term, for children to return to school has been a subject of hot debate among teachers unions, the government, and so on. Today, thanks to a poll of our readers, we have tapped in to the views of ordinary folk.

The headline results are that almost six in 10 who took part are fully in support of the reopening of schools, and the overwhelming view is that youngsters have suffered both educationally and mentally from the lockdown.

While it is the old and vulnerable who have most to fear from coronavirus, and the threat to previously healthy children is statistically extremely small, the young have nevertheless become major victims. This massive army of young Britons have paid a huge price for something that from a health standpoint hardly affects them.

For months they have been locked up at home, restricted in what they can do, and who they can see. Through no fault of their own they have all been subject to months of profound deprivation and have been held back in learning and in social interaction.

The coronavirus restrictions have been for the greater good of society, yet it is the young who have made the greatest sacrifices of all.

Our poll shows readers are not impressed by the performance of the government in handling the reopening of schools. Fewer than a quarter think it has done a good job.

It floundered in its stuttering attempt to restart schools before the summer break. The passage of time, and the progress that has been made in bringing down the number of coronavirus cases, has changed the dynamics of the argument.

While there are going to be many parents who will still want reassurance that the school environment is as safe as it possibly can be, our poll shows the centre of gravity in the debate has evolved and the uncertainty of past months has been superseded by widespread parental support for children returning to class.

Various measures and guidelines have been announced, such as staggered starts, to try to minimise the risks.

It may prove the case that once the schools do restart headteachers and staff begin to find their own ways to make sure everything works safely, rather than continually looking for guidance from above which might not prove practical in their own settings anyway.

Headteachers are surely the best and most knowledgeable managers of their own schools.

The unanswered question is how the pupils themselves will react. Some are more mature and responsible than others. And some children are, by definition, childish. So on top of keeping class discipline staff will be in the position of imposing health discipline throughout the school environment.

There are inevitably going to be things that crop up, and as schools are part of wider society we have to expect there to be coronavirus outbreaks which will make some call into question the wisdom of having opened up schools again to the learning business.

Yet things could not continue as they were. It was unfair to a generation of children.

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