Sam was the Conservative candidate for Lewisham East in the 2019 General Election and is an Association and Area Treasurer. A father of two, he is passionate about education.
I sit here writing this article with one of my children next to me being home-schooled. Education is a tremendously involved process, and even as the son of two teachers this experience has enormously increased my respect for the teaching profession.
For me, like many, the outbreak has brought a new challenge we have never faced - how to balance career and teaching. This has had many impacts on myself and my wife, but more importantly it has had impacts on my children, and the quality of education that they are receiving, which is far below the level that they would get in the classroom.
We have known for a long-time the huge impact that missing out on even a small amount of education can have on a child, particularly early on in their schooling. We are now in the unprecedented situation where the Government has mandated that children be away from their educational settings for an extended, and an uncertain, period of time - missing out on vital education. Now I completely understand the reasons for this, and don’t doubt them, but it leaves many parents with the need to step in and be the teacher.
This impact is felt even greater on those at the lowest ends of the income scale; those for whom education is the most important, and those that our society most needs and wants to benefit from a high-quality education. If your parents have money you are more likely to have the technology to be able to access and utilise online learning. If your parents have money you are more likely to live near a school that is using the latest online learning platforms and engaging with you continually. If your parents have money, research shows that they are more likely to push you to make sure you continue your education. The people who can benefit most from education are those who are least likely to be getting it at this time.
Alongside this are the secondary impacts, like where homeschooling your child is impacting your ability to work from home. For many, the transition to the new workplace could and should have had limited impact on their productivity, and they may even have found it liberating, however combining that work with the responsibility and time requirements of homeschooling have shattered their productivity. With children back at school we will start to re-engage our economy.
So it would seem sensible to me that one of the first steps to unleashing the economy from the lockdown would be to send children back to school, but more crucially, it will prevent a long-term scarring on our society from a mass-hiatus from the classroom.
For kids in primary school need significantly more interaction in their learning than those at secondary school, and at their age the impact of a long absence from school is greater. By getting primary school kids back we can take a significant step to minimising the long-term harm of the pandemic on the economy and society.
At the same time we can and should get similar settings back up and running, like childcare settings. Though steps will need to be taken, these are settings that share many of the same characteristics and reasons for opening as primary schools.
The counter-argument would be that opening schools too early risks increasing the spread of the virus at the time when we have started to control it. It is right that there is a risk to opening schools too soon, but we will soon be in a position to manage these. In the main, the parents and carers of children in primary school are likely to be young. There will always be exceptions, and there will be those with underlying health issues, and so particular steps and protections will need to be put in place to help protect these groups, and indeed some studies have suggested that opening schools has a minimum impact on the rate of infection for the population as a whole. There are risks to opening schools too early, but there are risks to keeping them closed.
Now opening schools, and particular primary schools, is not the answer to everything, and it's clear that the Government is listening to the science in this pandemic, but as we start to exit the lockdown, re-opening schools needs to be top of the list.