Councillor Bobb Webb, Labour’s education spokesperson on City of York Council, has urged the council and schools to work together in getting pupils back to school and enjoying learning again, and avoid an immediate return to fining for non-attendance. Cllr. Webb said the impact on children and young people in recent months should not be underestimated, and that for many a great deal of anxiety exists at the prospect of returning to school this week.
“Young people have had it tough in recent months, with schools closed for the vast majority of pupils. Then, whilst teachers and other school staff put together some excellent online resources at very short notice, children from disadvantaged backgrounds were left struggling to access them when the Government’s laptop scheme didn’t materialise until around four weeks before the school holidays.
“Children had been prepared to sit exams that were cancelled, and the teachers who knew their attainment levels best were ignored in favour of an algorithm that for a lot of children downgraded them because of their background. So pupils right across the school age range have been affected.
“At its best a school can enthuse and engage a child to grow up to contribute positively to society, and York schools do this. Yet the government is insistent on driving schools to become institutional algorithms through Ofsted inspections and league tables.
“I have written a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to give school leaders the freedom to build a broad and engaging curriculum that will make children look forward to returning to school, and at the same time asked him not to resume fining for non-attendance.
“There is little evidence to indicate fining changes behaviour, especially in cases of longer-term absenteeism. In these cases the issues are often multiple and complex, and ones where fining will likely exacerbate existing problems, not help to address them.
“We need more carrot, less stick, and a transition period before returning to the previous system. Until schools have been fully re-opened for a few weeks, we will have no idea how the Covid lockdown and school closures have impacted on our children and young people. Now is the time to understand the challenges many families have faced and work with them, not quickly jump to punish them”.