LISTEN: The views of Suffolk school leaders as some pupils return on June 1

Suffolk school leaders have discussed the issues around pupils returning to school in our online Ope

Suffolk school leaders have discussed the issues around pupils returning to school in our online Open House debate. Picture: PA Photo/JupiterImages Corporation. - Credit: PA

Changes to the way children are taught could continue into the next academic year as schools adapt to deal with coronavirus, Suffolk education leaders have said.

And with a degree of homeschooling looking set to continue for many pupils, it is essential they all have the necessary technology to learn remotely – so a “digital divide” does not open up.

These were among the issues discussed yesterday at this newspaper’s Open House online debate about the government’s proposals to bring pupils back to school from Monday.

Rebecca Leek, director of strategy at the Asset Education Trust, which runs 14 primary schools in Suffolk, and Anna Hennell James, chief executive of the Orwell Multi Academy Trust, and Graham White from the National Education Union were the expert panellists.

LISTEN: The EADT podcast about the return to school on June 1

They discussed the challenges of preparing schools for a new era where social distancing and different ways of working would transform the way children are taught – at least in the short term.

And there was a warning that further ahead there could be a need for more learning at home – and that would require government support to ensure all youngsters had the computer equipment they needed.

Mrs Hennell James said that in terms of preparation this was a very busy time as staff were trying to ensure classrooms were ready to welcome back children while allowing space for social distancing.

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Mrs Leek said she had become “checker in chief” as her schools were prepared. She said it was important that teachers felt the schools were a safe place because that would be projected to the children and in turn to their families.

Mr White warned that schools were returning too soon and without the necessary protection for children staff and families: “If they waited until June 15 there would be half the risk. If they waited until September there would be half the risk again.” He said he would not be sending his grandson, whom he is home schooling, back to school until September.

And they warned that while things might ease, it could be necessary for children to do more learning at home in the future as schooling changed.

Mrs Hennell James said: “There cannot be a digital divide, and we cannot rely on businesses to supply technology for children whose families’ cannot afford to provide it at home. We need to get government support for this.

“And that has to come through the schools. We know the pupils and the families that need this kind of support.”