OPINION: Covid's continued impact on children and school staff

School uniform. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto/monkeybusinessimages

The government has targeted 90% of pupils to leave primary school having reached the expected standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030 - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Whilst Easter holidays have begun elsewhere, schools in Suffolk are in the final week of the spring term.

Not having school vacation periods aligned with Norfolk and Essex this year has caused additional logistical difficulties when family members attend or work at settings in different counties but has been welcomed by those who benefit from the Easter break being spread over a longer period.

In schools we are crawling to the end of term.  

Once again this has been a term for breaking previous records. More than one in three of our children and staff have had Covid this term and now more than half have tested positive since the school year started in September.  

The impact on children’s learning of a week or two off school will be felt, but is recoverable.  

It is the impact of staff absence that is more concerning, especially as the pressure will be on our staff to make sure that the children catch up.  

Of those who have had Covid, some are still not fully recovered and back to their previous strength and as we learn more about ‘long Covid’ this is worrying.  

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The burden of covering for absent colleagues has taken its toll - we have only just managed to keep classrooms open because of our staff’s amazing flexibility and willingness to respond to last-minute changes.  

Last week I wrote to all of our part-timers to ask for their help and was overwhelmed by the offers and the positive attitude that we are all one team and we will do whatever it takes.  

We’ve always known that people go ‘above and beyond’ every day in our schools but never has that been more apparent than now.  

Last week also saw the long-awaited publication of the Schools White Paper and the SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) and AP (Alternative Provision) Review Green Paper.  Both have received much coverage in the media.  

The White Paper sets out the Government’s long term vision for the school system and the key message that every child should have the right support, in the right place, at the right time to achieve their full potential, founded on a ‘world-class’ system.  

The government wants to see 90% of children leaving primary school having reached the expected standards in reading, writing and maths by 2030 and an excellent, well-trained teacher for every child.

They have outlined a pledge to parents that if their child falls behind they will receive extra help such as after-school tuition to catch up.  They want schools to be calm, orderly, safe and supportive places.  I would imagine that all schools share these aspirations and most schools’ improvement plans steer in this direction.  

There is no doubt that we have a lower starting point as we recover from the pandemic and a focus on the basics of good teaching, good classroom practice and strong, supportive relationships are where we all need to focus.

All children should be able to read before they start secondary school and we should be doing everything we can.  

Last year, in an attempt to ‘upstream’ this issue, we had a particular focus on reading in Year 3.  In our action plans we detail taking action on reading as if children’s lives depended on it, bringing an extra urgency to a skill that really will affect their life chances.  

The education system has had high aspirations before - these are not new, but the challenges are much greater than they were pre-pandemic and therefore will be harder to achieve. 

The White Paper also sets the aim for all schools to be part of an academy trust in a fully academised system.  

They talk of a ‘stronger and fairer school system with all schools in strong trusts’.  In my view, a system that is cohesive, non-competitive and working together for the greater good must be our aim.

We need to be stronger than ever and we need to be prepared to implement the best, evidence-based practice in our schools so that our young people thrive academically and emotionally.  We will only achieve this by working together as one system. 

- Clare Flintoff is the CEO of ASSET Education, which runs a number of primary schools across Suffolk.