• Mumsnet and MP Vicky Ford Minister for Children answer your questions

    On Friday, 15th May, Minister for Children MP Vicky Ford hosted a webchat via Mumsnet to address parents’ questions regarding the plans for continuing to cope with the coronavirus crisis. Holland Park Education attended this discussion and have provided the following summary of some of the themes addressed to spread the factual information surrounding some of the most debated subject matter at the moment.

    Please refer directly to Mumsnet or the Department of Education’s website for more detail. The below information is merely a summary in order to support the official government bodies and Mumsnet who are making an effort to communicate factual information. The opinions and evidence presented here do not necessarily reflect those of Holland Park Education and whilst the core of the advice has not changed, some aspects of the text is a summary.

    Safety and protection of children and staff following school re-openings-
    The Department of Education will only plan for any extent of reopening provided that the five key tests set by government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing. As a result, the Department is asking schools, colleges and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation that these tests are met. The confirmation will depend on scientific advice at that time.

    The latest scientific advice to government is that:
    •there is high scientific confidence that children of all ages have less severe symptoms than adults if they contract coronavirus and there is moderately high scientific confidence that younger children are less likely to become unwell if infected with coronavirus
    •limiting the numbers of children going back to school and college initially then gradually increasing numbers, guided by scientific advice, reduces risk of increasing the rate of transmission
    •schools and other settings can make changes to how they are organised and put measures in place to reduce risks

    The full guidance can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers/reopening-schools-and-other-educational-settings-from-1-june#how-will-risks-to-children-teachers-and-families-be-managed

    On the basis of that scientific evidence, we are planning to gradually return pupils and limit the numbers that can go back in order to reduce the risk of transmission. We’ve also issued guidance to schools, colleges and early years providers on the measures they should put in place to reduce risk of transmission in settings further. These measures include children staying within smaller groups wherever possible and limiting contact between different groups. We have also set out a range of additional protective measures settings can take including frequent cleaning, encouraging good hand and respiratory hygiene, reducing ‘pinch points’ (such as parents dropping children off at the start and end of day), and using outdoor space.

    The Government is developing a new test and trace programme. Its goal is for anyone who needs a test to access one. The programme will bring together an app, expanded web and phone-based contact tracing, and swab testing for those with potential coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. This programme will play an important role in helping to minimise the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the future.

    To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), a range of approaches and actions should be employed. These can be seen as a hierarchy of controls that, when implemented, creates an inherently safer system, where the risk of transmission of infection is substantially reduced. These includ

    • minimising contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend childcare settings, schools or colleges
    • cleaning hands more often than usual – wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with running water and soap and dry them thoroughly or use alcohol hand rub or sanitiser ensuring that all parts of the hands are covered
    • ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
    • cleaning frequently touched surfaces often using standard products, such as detergents and bleach
    • minimising contact and mixing by altering, as much as possible, the environment (such as classroom layout) and timetables (such as staggered break times)

    Practical guidance regarding social distancing and how to monitor this with younger years

    Social distancing within childcare settings with very young children will be harder to maintain. We know that, unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff. In deciding to bring more children back to early years and schools, we are taking this into account.

    It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, and we can achieve that and reduce transmission risk by ensuring children, young people and staff where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that this small group or “bubble” stays away from other people and groups. We are also asking schools and Early Years providers to limit contact between parents, for example ensuring only one parent drops their child at the setting, that parents do not enter the setting unless there is a specific need (for example if the child is in a wheelchair) and to stagger pick up and drop off times. There have been some very good examples of this working in other countries.
    The safety of children and people working in childcare settings is our top priority.

    A Levels and GCSEs for next year (2021)

    The DoE has asked Schools and Colleges to especially prioritise Y10 and Y12 as well as other students in FE who are facing public exams. Schools and colleges should consider how to best use the additional face to face support for Year 10 and 12 students, who are starting their final year of study for GCSEs, A levels and other qualifications next academic year.

    Mental Health Awareness in children amidst COVID-19

    The Department of Education is fully aware that social isolation, reduced exercise and loss or bereavement may be impacting children and young people’s mental wellbeing during this difficult time. There are included resources that can help support mental wellbeing in their resources list and work is taking place across government to support mental health charities, including £5 million extra funding from the Departmental of Health and Social Care. This is being co-ordinated by Mind. For young children and families, Anna Freud have published guidance on supporting children through this time and for children in secondary school, Public Health England’s Rise Above platform may be useful. The NHS is now also running a 24/7 mental health support line for those needing urgent mental health support. This is now available in most English mental health trusts. It’s for all ages.

    Year 2-5 who won’t return yet- what do we do now?

    Schools and colleges should use best endeavours to support pupils attending school as well as those remaining at home, making use of the available remote learning support.

    The DoE has committed over £100 million to support remote education. They are providing laptops and tablets to disadvantaged children who would otherwise not have access and are preparing for examination in Year 10, those receiving support from a social worker, including pre-school children, or are a care leaver.

    There is also published guidance for parents and carers who are supporting their children learning at home as well as a list of online resources which parents and carers may find helpful to supplement work that the school has provided.

    Provisions for SEND students

    Our thoughts are particularly with those with special needs and disabilities at this time. This is a challenge unlike any we have faced in our lifetimes. We know that this period is particularly hard for those children and young people with SEND, their families and those who support them. We have made some changes to the law to balance the needs of children and young people with SEND with the ability of local authorities (LA) and health services to respond to the pandemic.

    Our aim is that, as far as possible EHC processes continue and children and young people with SEND get the provision they need, whilst accepting that this might have to be done differently for now. It is vital that LAs, health services, education settings, children and young people with SEND and their families and others involved continue to work together.

    I am monitoring the use of these temporary modifications closely to ensure that they are being used appropriately.

    Councils are receiving an additional £3.2 billion to manage any additional pressures, including support for vulnerable children.

    Holland Park plans to continue to share factual and accurate information to help support families in the UK who are trying to cope with the coronavirus crisis as best they can. For more information or if you would like to speak to our team, please call 0207 034 0800.

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