This week we contacted every school, college and nursery in Walthamstow to find out how the Government’s decisions on education during the pandemic have affected them. Below is a short report for local residents and details of how you can help our local education providers during the coming weeks.
Recent changes to the Government’s Coronavirus guideline have required the closure of Primary and Secondary schools, as well as colleges and Independent training providers, to all but the children of key workers and vulnerable children. Children are instead legally required to be provided with online learning to enable them to continue their education at home.
This requirement to close was not extended to cover the early years sector which has remained open but has still been affected by concerns about the safety of participation. Where some providers were too busy to talk, others saw only 13% of their expected attendance. Some have also chosen to close out of concern for their students and staff. Many schools, colleges and in particular early years settings expressed funding concerns and what the pandemic means for their future. This was particularly prevalent for those who do not fall neatly within the guidance, such as maintained nursery schools. There was agreement that the Government needs to provide early years funding based on the previous year’s calculations of the numbers of children who attend or else they would not be able to continue at all.
Despite schools only being open to the children of key workers and vulnerable children, there is still a substantial number of children in schools. Indeed, some have around 25% of their pupils coming in, meaning nearly 100 children on site.
The colleges highlighted how the Government’s response was led by consideration for GCSE and A-Level students, with little concern for vocational students whose courses demand their physical presence and whose examinations fell the week after the announcement. These examinations have still not been addressed with some colleges choosing to go ahead with exams and others cancelling them.
Devices For Online Learning
The need for devices and access to the internet was the most urgent issue arising from conversations with schools and colleges. Many schools expressed a fear that children’s education was being hindered by lack of access to the internet. This was especially true for those children who had to share devices and resources with siblings, as well as their parents working from home. One school described a family sharing one laptop across four virtual classrooms. The majority of schools had received some devices, yet many found provision inadequate. One school received enough laptops to cover only 4% of their pupils whilst another, who cater for over 1,500 students, had not received a single device. Several schools found the Government’s statements regarding free devices unhelpful as this raised parents' expectations- leading them to believe the school was withholding equipment which in fact they did not have.
Staff Welfare concerns
Staff welfare concerns ran throughout our conversations, with the most immediate concerns originating in the early years sector. The disparity in guidance regarding early years and primary settings – where primary schools are closed but nurseries not- has created fears for personal safety amongst staff. They feel undervalued and, as one employee stated, ‘at the bottom of the barrel’. early years staff overwhelmingly wanted an explanation as to why they must remain open, whilst primary teachers were not exposed to the virus at work.
Schools, colleges and nurseries all report experiencing staff shortages due to illness or having to isolate- one early years setting reported that every member of their staff had at one point had the virus. Schools, one of which reported only 50% staffing capacity, are providing for significant numbers of pupils on site as well as online teaching. Many felt the quality of education provided on site was suffering as a result. Some expressed concern about the socio-economic divide which has emerged, where lower paid teaching assistants were exposed to the virus on site, whilst qualified teachers were better protected at home.
Walthamstow’s educators told us they were providing for vulnerable children from their own or the school’s pocket. Many schools were concerned about the provision of free school meals. Gaps in the structure of the policy mean that vulnerable children are excluded because of the low requirement threshold- in London this is currently £31,500 for a household.
Recent redundancies caused by the pandemic and issues with filling out forms- such as access to technology and difficulties with written English- are also causing financial problems for families. Heads and managers have stepped up to feed children from their own pocket or the school’s budget with one headteacher described buying sandwiches to feed hungry pupils. Many teachers are also concerned about children’s prolonged presence in dangerous home environments. This has led many headteachers to welcome these children into school, thus further exacerbating issues regarding attendance and keeping schools a safe environment.
What can you do?
Several local schools have programmes to receive donations of laptops, tablets or any other device that can access the internet. Please consider donating any spare devices you have please contact these schools which have requested them:
- Stoneydown Park Primary School – email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Barn Croft Primary School – email email@example.com
- Kelmscott School – email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Henry Maynard Primary School – email email@example.com
Our local foodbanks and community support services appreciate all the donations they have received – and continue to work with our office and local schools to help families. Here are the details of how you can support them:
- Eat or Heat, a local foodbank, would appreciate food donations but cash donations are appreciated too. http://eatorheat.org/donate/
- Our local Salvation Army work with families and individuals in crisis. You can donate to help this work here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/julie-pell3
- PL84U- Al Suffa, a local foodbank and family support service would appreciate donations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to help them or visit their website http://pl84u-alsuffa.org/
I will continue to advocate for educational staff at all levels to be given priority status for vaccination to help address concerns about their safety – in the meantime please do take a moment to share your appreciation with our local education workers - They are working exceptionally hard to ensure that Walthamstow’s children get the best quality of education and care possible; they deserve our respect.