For secondary pupils, the announcement yesterday that many schools may not open fully until after the February half-term holiday is a cruel and deeply unnecessary blow.
I fear hundreds of thousands of young people will spend the rest of their lives paying for this disastrous decision, foisted on the Government by callous and opportunistic unions bent on exploiting the pandemic for political advantage.
As a school governor and former teacher, I am furious at the news that, while primary schools are to open after the Christmas holidays and pupils studying for GCSEs and A-levels in Years 11 and 13 will be able to return to class, the rest face weeks of more inadequate online learning.
For secondary pupils, the announcement yesterday that many schools may not open fully until after the February half-term holiday is a cruel and deeply unnecessary blow (file image)
The damage done to their progress is already catastrophic and probably irreparable.
Despite a general reopening last September, many schools have not been functioning fully since March.
We are a long way past the point where extra homework can fill in the gaps.
A single day when classrooms are closed means more than the loss of just one day’s education.
Every teacher knows that lessons are about reinforcing knowledge, going back over the ground already covered to make sure facts are firmly planted.
If lessons are not instilled daily, many children will slide backwards. It now looks as though, on average, secondary students are between 15 months and 22 months behind the point where we would expect them to be.
Put plainly, 12-year-olds in Year 8 have slipped back to the level they were at when they moved up from primary school.
While primary schools are to open and pupils studying for GCSEs and A-levels in Years 11 and 13 will be able to return to class, the rest face weeks of more online learning (file image)
And in some cases, they have regressed still further. All their secondary progress has been lost. It’s unthinkable, but true.
And it’s not happening in just a few isolated classrooms – this is the story all over the country.
Such a statement might sound melodramatic. But it is based on reliable evidence from a leading assessor – Daisy Christodoulou, who is director of education at the No More Marking project, which compares results from schools nationwide.
By cross-referencing work submitted by teachers all over Britain, it is able to analyse children’s progress across a broad spectrum.
Of course, I recognise that the Government has to listen to scientific health advisers who are monitoring the spread of coronavirus.
But I am frustrated beyond belief that no attention is being paid to other scientific evidence that measures the educational cost of lockdown for schools and pupils.
Does anyone in the Cabinet think it’s acceptable for pupils to be 22 months behind? What do they imagine will be the outcome for this generation?
It’s so brutally unfair to load the greatest burden onto the young. We’re all suffering from the restrictions – cut off from our friends and wider family, our jobs at risk, the threat of swingeing tax rises to come.
Schools up and down Britain have made exceptional efforts to ensure their environments are as safe as humanly possible (file image)
However, no one is paying a higher price than schoolchildren. It is not only their daily lives and friendships that are being turned upside down, but their whole futures.
Without education, their prospects are permanently harmed. Ground is lost that can never be regained.
Inevitably, it is pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who are worst-hit.
It’s deeply unrealistic to imagine that children from families in the lowest economic bracket will be able to carry on learning via laptop.
Even if there were enough portable computers to go round (and believe me, there are not), many children don’t have access to reliable broadband.
I know of children who have to resort to piggybacking on their neighbours’ internet signal to download learning materials.
In homes where, for example, there is one computer between three children of different ages, constant tensions arise over who has access and when.
Pressures are exacerbated when adults in the house are trying to use the wi-fi to work from home.
The cases I know about are just in London, but I’m sure the same problems are repeated in different ways across rural Britain where internet speeds are often inadequate.
Yet none of this is taken into account when the Government says blithely that pupils will have to ‘continue learning from home’.
You might as well cancel the school bus and tell children that in future they can flap their arms and fly. It reveals an utter lack of practical thinking.
The suggestion by union leaders that schools should remain closed to allow more time to prepare for Covid testing and protective measures is particularly mendacious.
Schools up and down Britain have made exceptional efforts to ensure their environments are as safe as humanly possible.
Social distancing restrictions are enforced everywhere. Corridors are run on a rigid one-way system, hygiene rules are meticulously enforced and battalions of cleaners have been drafted in.
To pretend that another few weeks will enable these measures to be upgraded is false. They are as good as they can possibly get.
Everyone understands the importance of driving down infection rates and ensuring the NHS is not overloaded.
But it is also an inescapable fact that young children, adolescents and teenagers are the least likely to be seriously affected by this virus.
In the majority of cases, those with the infection won’t even know they’ve got it – they will have no symptoms and experience no illness.
Why then must they bear the brunt of Covid restrictions? Why are their lives being ruined? How do we imagine that we can ever compensate them for their ruined education?
On top of all this, the parents of pupils who cannot now return to class must be tearing their hair out in despair.
I am very strongly of the opinion that teachers are not childminders and schools do not exist to get children out of the house.
However, there is a practical aspect here and when classrooms are empty then millions of parents will be struggling to do their jobs.
That’s very difficult for individual families, where wages may be suddenly curtailed. Moreover, it is disastrous for the national economy.
Society is a machine of complex interconnections and it is currently at a standstill. Take one vital cog out of the engine and the wheels start to seize up.
Make no mistake – there are militants in the teaching unions who want this to happen.
They see this as an opportunity to wreak social havoc and perhaps bring down the Government. This is about extremist politics and has nothing to do with education.
The children are treated as expendable pawns.
Do not blame the teachers for the actions of their unions. In most cases, they probably haven’t been consulted or offered any kind of a ballot.
Not everyone is held hostage by the unions. The headteachers I talk to regularly are planning to open as normal, as are many around the country.
Most teachers are desperate to get back to the job they love.
It’s crucial that the Government backs them. Downing Street has to resist the urge to capitulate.
Schools have to open for all our children. Undermining their young lives is not the way to beat coronavirus.
- Calvin Robinson is a school governor and former teacher