On 29 May, 324 deaths from coronavirus and 2,095 more infections were recorded in the UK. Meanwhile, with the decision to open schools to Reception, Y1 and Y6 pupils on 1 June, a survey has found that half of the general public doesn’t trust the government to put children’s best interests first.
Some 49% of people felt this way. This was the same figure as those who believe the government’s too distracted by the Dominic Cummings affair to be making the right decisions about opening up schools, nurseries and colleges. There’s been public outrage after allegations that Cummings, the prime minister’s senior adviser, broke lockdown rules.
Some schools in England are due to reopen from 1 June, with nursery and pre-school children plus pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 among the first to go back. But not every primary school will reopen.
The RSA (Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) questioned 2,085 adults. The survey also showed the public is split about when children should go back to school. It found 84% of people trusted classroom teachers and 59% trusted education unions.
Laura Partridge, the RSA’s associate education director, suggested that a low level of trust in the government could affect how parents and teachers respond to plans to reopen schools. She said:
The government will need to work closely with head teachers, teachers and local authorities, in whom the public trust, to develop a plan that everyone can support.
Just 13% of those questioned thought that schools should reopen to all children in June, and a third supported a phased return. Some 23% of people only wanted schools to reopen once a vaccine has been found.
Minimising the risk of infection to pupils and staff was the top priority in the reopening of schools for 78% of people. Only 12% felt the move should be made to limit disruption to education.
Some 10% of people said enabling parents to return to work should be a priority. According to 73% of adults questioned, the decision to reopen schools should be made by head teachers working with local authorities who have assessed the risks.
Some 50% thought that schools should only reopen when education unions agree that it’s safe to do so. The idea that every child should have an adult in school they can approach for support was backed by 83% of people.
The crisis could also be a time to rethink school priorities. Our findings show that the disruption caused by the pandemic has cemented the case for a greater focus on social and emotional support in schools.
The public want to see a trusted adult allocated to each child in school and more dedicated mental health professionals available to pupils to ensure that children have the support they need to overcome the challenges posed by this crisis, and to build a thriving education system for the future.
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