Time to get back to school

The article below was written by Damian and published in the Herald group of papers on the 27th August:

"'Summer learning loss’ is the term academics give to the observation that children lose some of their accumulated learning during the long holiday.  The effect is felt in some families more than others, depending on what kids are able to do through the summer. 

It happens all over the world and education experts debate whether the shape of the school year should be changed.  But of course there is also something very special about the extended summer break, and it marks the transition between school years. 

This year has put a different perspective on this debate.  We are now all very conscious of learning loss, and its differential effect in different parts of our society.  And as we look to school return, it follows not just six weeks away but for many, almost six months. 

During my time as Education Secretary, we piloted a Holiday Activities and Food scheme, which saw local community groups provide meals and activities for thousands of children in a selection of areas in the summer holidays.   

I’m pleased that it has since been expanded.  It wasn’t designed for the current situation, but following the lock-down, it has been even more welcome. 

Different groups have operated the programme in different areas.  The Connect4Summer programme here in Hampshire is one of the most innovative, with a strong focus on food and cooking, at the centre of the activities.  It was a pleasure once again to visit one of the local sessions at Weyford Primary School in Bordon last week. 

The Family Fun Days - which bring parents and children together to enjoy a wide range of purposeful, fun and educational activities - is just one part of the four-week programme. As well as preparing and enjoying a hot lunch, and a chance to try new recipes, the group also access specialist instruction in subjects such as first aid, an art project, yoga or possibly a science topic.    

Available to qualifying families, the Connect4Summer programme offers ten days of free childcare for children over 5, with a new Teen Project introduced this year for 12-16 year olds. At 58 venues across Hampshire, the programme is a great example of how we can support families in a more holistic yet practical way.  

Now our thoughts turn to Back to School.  Schools and parents have done an amazing job in supporting children to learn from home, but it is imperative that we have a full return in September.   

As the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, said the other day, there is huge detriment to children from being away from school.  This includes health risks as well as educational ones.   

In the long run we know health outcomes are correlated with education attainment.  But even in the short term, there are both physical and mental health benefits to being at school, with the regular routine, social interaction and opportunities it brings. 

Youngsters will be eager to get back to the familiar environment and pattern of school or college, and keen to see their friends and teachers face to face.  

Simply reinstating the usual school norms – wearing uniform, set lesson times – may feel strange at first and take a little practice. And of course school will not be completely as normal, with new protocols in place. 

There are extra considerations for those starting a new school or beginning a final year of exam preparation, with all the nerves and expectations that that involves. 

The ‘Return to School Safely’ campaign launched by the Government a week or so ago is designed to reassure pupils and parents about the measures being taken to keep people safe at school, and also to reinforce the need for everyone to remain alert to the risks of Covid-19. 

Staggered break times, increased hygiene and handwashing, and children remaining in consistent groups will all contribute to minimising risks, while allowing schools to get back to doing what they do best – teaching. 

And getting to school may also be different. The option to walk or cycle may become the preference for some students and staff, but the government has also made more than £40 million available to help local authorities offer alternative school transport to alleviate pressure on public transport. 

As we are all thinking about the practicalities for our children returning to school, we need to reassure them that school is the best place for them to be. The benefits of structure, routine, and the support of dedicated teachers and school staff cannot be underestimated; it will be vital in helping young people get back on track with their learning and making plans for the future."