Bringing someone else’s child into your home in a pandemic

Of all the groups affected by government moves to get schools and childcare settings fully open, the stakes are probably highest for childminders.

No-one else potentially invites infection into their own homes while they work.

Just like schools, many childminders never closed, instead staying open throughout the crisis to look after the children of key workers and children classed as vulnerable.

Childminders are “the unsung heroes of the pandemic”, according to Liz Bayram, chief executive of their professional association, PACEY.

So what’s it been like? How have they approached the vexed questions of social distancing and hygiene with the tiniest of children, and what are their thoughts about taking on more children as the lockdown eases?

Safety bubble?

“You take each day at a time and use lots and lots of soap,” says Sara, a childminder from Lincolnshire.

Before lockdown started in March she had a thriving business, making at least £2,000 a month – but she’s now down to about a third of that.

She still looks after four children of NHS workers, including one with a parent whose job is in intensive care.

Pausing to think of what she might be inviting into her own home is “terrifying”, she says, but with four children of her own either at – or heading for – university, she feels she has no choice.

In line with government guidance, she is spending a fortune on soap and disinfectant, and insists key worker parents, when they come to the doorstep for pick-up, are showered and in fresh clothes.

She’s washed and put away all the soft toys, replacing them with rubberised or plastic dolls which can go in the dishwasher every night, along with the Lego.

The government recognises that some measures are impossible to fulfil in a family home, she says.

For example, the two metre rule: “That’s just not happening at all – you have to look at the space you’ve got and decide”.

On top of that, removing soft furnishings like carpets, as suggested in the official advice, will be impossible on her current household budget, and it will likewise be impossible to avoid the children she looks after using the same spaces as her family.

No-one is suggesting that childminders should use PPE in the general course of their work – masks are ruled out as children might find them frightening, and in any case they need to see people’s mouths move for speech and language development.

But the guidance suggests childcare settings should have PPE available in case of a confirmed case of the virus, and according to Sara it’s impossible to get locally. “Even hospitals and nursing homes are struggling,” she says.

Sara is planning to reopen her business gradually, aiming to have it back to full capacity by September, maybe adding one new child each month.

“With every new child there comes a new set of germs,” she says. “So you have to work out how many children you can safely allow back.”

She is torn about whether it’s the right thing to do. She understands businesses need to get back up to speed or risk going bust, and some parents will need to get back to work sooner than others, but she adds: “If they can stay at home, I’m going to say that they should.”

Losing sleep

PACEY has warned many childminders have been hit so hard by the pandemic they might close for good and a lack of affordable and flexible childcare could blight the chances of a post-lockdown economic recovery.

Earlier this month a survey of members showed about half of those who responded were still open, but on much reduced incomes.

In Sheffield, Claire has lost most of her clientele. She usually has 25 children on her books, but since March it’s been down to four, among them three siblings whose parents are both nurses.

“Yes I’m worried,” she says. “It’s always on your mind, I’m not going to lie.”

It’s particularly hard as Claire is a single mother of two children, one of whom has asthma.

Her 72-year-old father lives nearby and has chronic lung disease – so she has been leaving food at his door.

She has lost sleep over the risks to her family, but the parents she works with “really trust you and you don’t want to let them down”.

She tries to guarantee hygiene with extra hand-washing and cleaning – and she drops the children home to avoid their parents coming to her house.

With such young children, she says social distancing is hard and asking them not to share toys and resources won’t work: “It goes against everything we try to teach them about good sharing.”

Claire is confused by inconsistencies in the policy: “I can’t have my mum round, yet I can open up my home to potentially 12 different families.”

She says opening up to more children will be “a real balancing act”.

“I have sent an email to my families, saying that until we get further reassurance, I won’t be opening up any further.

“I will try to keep up with the childcare I currently provide to key worker families.

“They really need my support and it will be a greater risk to them if I have other children in my setting.”

Claire hopes her business will survive the summer, and wants to reopen fully in September.

But other local childminders have given up, she says, and even though she loves the job, half of her wonders whether – under current circumstances with “the low pay and the stress” – it’s actually worth it.

Names have been changed.

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Colorado high schools host creative graduations during the pandemic

From drive-in to drive-through, and from ski gondolas to car parades, high schools across Colorado are finding unique and creative ways to honor this year’s graduating seniors.

Graduation comes at a tenuous time in the public battle to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many people are pent up after weeks of tight restrictions, and families are eager to celebrate the achievements of students whose senior years were disrupted.

Perceptions of risk vary around the state. Some Colorado school districts won variances from a state ban on gatherings of 10 or more people to hold in-person ceremonies. Others plan to forge ahead with in-person ceremonies without state approval.

Still others have postponed ceremonies originally set for May until July or August in the hopes that the coronavirus pandemic will be less of a public health threat by then. And some schools are opting for the safest route by holding virtual ceremonies.

But even schools whose ceremonies will take place on Zoom have found tangible ways to honor their seniors with lawn signs, downtown banners, and car parades.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit co.chalkbeat.org.

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TikTok and a shoulder to cry on: why pupils in Gloucestershire wish lockdown school would never end

“We call it ‘strange school’,” says Caitlin, 15, slightly raising her voice across the the open space of the school hall where the pupils are carefully observing physical distancing. “Literally everything here is different now.”

Since lockdown, Caitlin has been coming to school five days a week, as she is among those whose schooling is considered a priority. With three younger siblings at home, she has to take on “a lot of responsibility for helping out”. Even in normal times, school is a haven for her. Over the past seven weeks it has become even more than that: an oasis of calm.

Rednock secondary is a specialist science college in the small market town of Dursley, Gloucestershire. This is not the affluent north Cotswolds of honeyed stone cottages, and the school is a typical comprehensive. Usually 1,500 students troop through its gates every morning. Today, 42 pupils are in.

At the moment there is one teacher to four students, which means pupils such as Caitlin can be given unprecedented tailored pastoral and academic support, without the usual pressures of time. “I think without school right now I’d be an emotional mess,” Caitlin says with a nervous smile. “It’s my GCSEs and I’m worried – we’re missing a massive chunk of learning. But I’ve had a teacher to help me whenever I’ve wanted. It’s given me that extra confidence.”

Here at Rednock, pupils have been encouraged to try a huge range of new creative and practical activities: knitting, Zumba, TikTok, baking, kite-making and sign language.

The school has ripped up timetables in a way no state school could normally contemplate. “We’ve said, we will be completely flexible to your needs,” says Kerala Cole, assistant headteacher. “We work in partnership with parents to personalise the deal for the students. It can be that they come in for just a couple of hours. And I think we are seeing huge benefits to that.”

One boy who had refused to attend for eight months, has been coming in every day, thanks to this flexibility and the attention he can now be given. Another year 8 child, “who arrived midway through this year and has been struggling … he’s been attending for four weeks now and he’s really benefited”, says Cole. “You can just see how his shoulders have relaxed.”

The gap in GCSE results between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and the rest is thought to be around 19 months and, without changes in policy priorities, at the current rate it will take 50 years to close, according to the Education Policy Institute thinktank.

Many fear children will fall even further behind during the pandemic, one reason the government gives for wanting to reopen schools to more pupils by 1 June. Rednock was hoping some 240 pupils would attend during lockdown, but numbers have been lower than expected.

The corridors of the school’s spacious modern building are hushed. Children walk around alone, and don’t wear uniform. For many, “strange school” has huge advantages. “Before, I had quite a few classmates who were really annoying and distracting, but now this new way, it’s quieter,” says Edie, 13.

“Teachers are ever so supportive, and it’s calmer because there’s not tonnes of people crowding around,” adds Molly, 11.

“There’s less people who intimidate other people,” says Alfie, 12, whose parents, both nurses, have been at work during the crisis. “You can be yourself more rather than be the person other people think you should be.” His mum has had Covid-19, he says, and has recovered.

Everyone nods. “Before, people used to sometimes judge you,” says Samira, 11. “You can sometimes have fake friends who really bring you down. This has given you a little bit of a break.”

Because the school is being so careful about physical distancing, I meet students in the hall, with one child per desk. This small group either have key-worker parents, are under the care of a social worker, have an education, health and care plan (EHCP) for their special needs, or are otherwise defined as “high priority” by their teachers. They miss their friends but, to a child, say they feel immense relief from the pressures of “normal” school.

“The teachers have more time to spend with you, and you get the help you need,” says Maisie, 12, whose mother works in food manufacturing. Samira agrees. “Teachers feel more like family now.” There is enthusiastic nodding from her schoolmates.

The headteacher, David Alexander, and Cole, went through their entire roll to identify pupils they felt should have the opportunity to attend – those who were vulnerable, although not in the government’s stated categories.

When the Covid-19 crisis finally ends, schools must never return to normal

“We want as many to come in as possible,” Alexander says. As schools closed across the country, Rednock staff telephoned 280 families to make sure they knew their child had a place. “Some parents and carers are hesitant,” Alexander acknowledges. “And some prefer to have their children at home.” But efforts are unstinting to support the 160 or so students who, Cole says, “we would class as vulnerable, and who we’d prefer to be in school but aren’t”.

Cole feels anxious for the welfare of some children who haven’t been seen for the past seven weeks. She is in regular contact with their social workers and, in some cases, the police. Teachers continue to check in, ringing some children weekly, some daily.

In school, staff are sensitive to new needs. “Some here have really difficult home lives and they feel safer in school. And they feel worried about their parents who are at work. We’ve had tears, shouting, aggression,” says Cole.

“Or they go quiet, or go off on their own,” adds Alexander. “Or you get over-the-top laughter, or clinginess,” says Cole.

When all students do come back, Alexander and Cole are hoping there will be lessons they can use from lockdown. They know, too, that the return of the hurley burley will affect the more vulnerable children.

And the pupils have mixed feelings about normal school resuming. Samira hopes there might be smaller classes, but says: “I’m not excited about going back – all the madness and screaming in corridors.” Molly agrees.: “It’ll probably be more stressful. Everything crowded again.”

Caitlin is looking to the positives. “I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on who I want to be when I’m older,” she says. “I can be quite negative, and this time has given me a break. The extra support from school means that I know even when things get tough – because we’re in a pandemic and I’m getting through it – I can get through other things now.”

Alexander and Cole emphasise that even in normal times this school tries to create a family atmosphere. But to these children, a caring school has never felt as much of a reality as it does now. There is no testing or targets, no pressure to achieve academically. They feel adults are there for them. And despite the immense stresses and limitations of living in a time of pandemic, they are blossoming.

* All children’s names have been changed.

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Coronavirus: No graduation ceremony for first-generation college grad

Liseth Figueroa and her young daughters crossed two countries’ borders, the Guatemalan mother propelled through Mexico into the United States by the image of her girls one day crossing a grand stage with caps, gowns and diplomas in hand.

Amid years of financial hardships, language barriers, culture shock, violence and work ethic, Estéfani Peña Figueroa, now 24, never lost sight of the graduation stage — an ambition instilled by her mother, whose life became a pilgrimage to give her daughters the education she never had.

This year was going to be the rich reward.

Peña Figueroa, a student with DACA protection, graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver this month with a degree in health care management. Her younger sister is graduating from Denver’s DSST: College View High School.

But because the coronavirus pandemic upended academic life and put a halt to large gatherings, there has been no pomp, no circumstance and no graduation stage to complete the Figueroas’ educational odyssey.

Many Colorado academic institutions canceled or postponed their graduation ceremonies in an effort to reduce the spread of the highly contagious new coronavirus. For first-generation college students like Peña Figueroa — the first person in her family to earn a college degree — the dissolution of a graduation ceremony felt especially stinging.

“I really wanted to go to school since I was little, but the education in Guatemala was so expensive and not the best opportunity,” Peña Figueroa said, her voice cracking. “Although my mother didn’t really know how to read back then, she would always try to read to me and always tell me — sorry I get so emotional — she would always tell me about the importance of going to school and going to college. My parents decided to give my little sister and I a better future.”

Fleeing violence and in search of educational opportunities, Peña Figueroa and her family came to the United States when she was 7 years old.

“The journey wasn’t easy,” Peña Figueroa said. “When I got here, I went to elementary school and faced a lot of challenges with culture shock, a different language.”

Peña Figueroa said she also lived with a violent man for a period growing up.

“Nevertheless, my mom’s biggest dream was for my little sister and I to graduate and be able to attend college,” Peña Figueroa said.

Peña Figueroa had been interested in anatomy since she was a little girl with dreams of becoming a doctor or nurse. Her aspirations were underscored when her mother got a terrible ear infection after the family moved to the United States. Liseth Figueroa didn’t have health insurance, and her paycheck was consumed by rent, groceries and child care. When Peña Figueroa’s mother finally sought medical care, she was left with a hefty bill.

“I was little, but I so clearly remember finding her crying because she couldn’t afford to pay it,” Peña Figueroa said.

The moment shaped Peña Figueroa, who would later study health care management at MSU Denver, learning about health insurance policies and providing care to vulnerable communities. She hopes to use her degree to work in a hospital and support undocumented individuals seeking medical care.

Will Simpkins, MSU Denver’s vice president for student affairs, said the sense of loss among students he’s talked with in the midst of the pandemic is palpable.

To ease the pain, Simpkins said MSU committed to continuing to pay students and hourly staff, calling or texting all 19,000 MSU students once a month to check in and see what they might need, and planning a graduation ceremony for December.

Sam Borrego, MSU Denver’s coordinator for first-gen initiatives, was a first-generation college student herself. Borrego explained how the disrupted final college semester was hitting first-gen students hard.

“You wait for this moment that’s going to bring closure to your experience, and it’s something that you envision yourself doing since you’re a little kid,” Borrego said. “Not being able to bring in their family and for them to share that moment and be that example to children and younger siblings is hard because a lot of first-gen students see themselves as role models for others. That moment you have your cap and gown on and you’re in that arena — it’s a good example of an image for younger siblings and children to have.”

Borrego organized a virtual graduation ceremony for first-gen students so their lifelong efforts still got some form of recognition.

While the strut across the graduation stage that Peña Figueroa imagined may only happen in her dreams, her mother’s pride is the sweetest celebration.

COVID-19 forced the Figueroa family to cancel a graduation trip to California to see family and show Liseth Figueroa the ocean, but the tight-knit mother and daughter trio is still reveling in their accomplishments together.

“I owe everything — all my accomplishments — to her,” Peña Figueroa said. “I’m so thankful for everything she has done. My mom is laid off right now, but she is so positive for us. She is so proud because my sister and I did it. She always said, ‘I cannot help you financially, but I can help you with all my support, all my encouragement and all my love.’ We did it, Mom.”

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Ministers rejected school reopening plan recommended by Sage experts

A low-risk scenario where pupils in England would attend school on alternating weeks was presented to the government as the most likely way to gain popular support before ministers instead settled on their plan for a widespread reopening on 1 June, newly published papers have revealed.

The government’s plan for reopening schools to entire classes of reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils on 1 June was not among the nine scenarios modelled for Sage by the Department for Education. But one of the scientists’ preferred options of splitting classes and having pupils attend on alternate weeks, which they said had “particular potential merit”, was passed over.

The papers of scientific advice prepared for Sage and its subcommittees reveal high levels of uncertainty around different scenarios for school reopenings, and over the likelihood of transmission of the Covid-19 virus by children of different ages.

One of the most recent papers, discussing the effects of increasing school attendance on transmission, concludes: “There is substantial uncertainty, with the relative contribution of school openings being driven also by the relative susceptibility and infectivity of children of different ages compared to adults, as well as the extent to which social distancing is or is not sustained in the wider population.”

The stash of documents released by Sage and the government on Friday afternoon show the scientific advisers wrestling with questions of how easily children could transmit coronavirus, with the experts conceding that exposure outside the schoolyard was likely to be highly influential.

Collectively, the scientific advice appears to do little to assuage fears among parents and teachers over the potential risks in reopening schools to reception, year 1 and year 6 as soon as 1 June, as Boris Johnson pledged earlier this month. On Thursday the governments of both Scotland and Northern Ireland announced that schools in those countries would not return until after the summer holidays.

A modelling paper stated: “The modelling consistently suggests that resuming early-years provision has a smaller relative impact than primary school, which in turn has a smaller relative impact than resuming secondary schooling. However, this analysis does not incorporate potential for indirect impacts on contacts outside of school – which may differ by age of child.”

The modelling of infection spread – carried out by four institutions, including Public Health England – also did not account for the activities of children within schools: “It is important to understand what is going on inside of the school (eg physical distancing, hygiene measures, and more). The potential effect of such actions is not incorporated into the modelling.”

Sage looked at the modelling for nine different scenarios outlined by the Department for Education, from total closure to full reopening. But none of the published scenarios included the three year groups that the government eventually chose.

The committee that examined the modelling appeared to favour two scenarios that would have split both primary and secondary school classes and have different groups of children attend on alternate weeks, labelled scenario seven, which would have seen a low level of potential transmission according to the four results.

The recent paper on modelling continued: “Scenario 7 (alternating one/two weeks on, one/two weeks off) may be a good way to stop extensive transmission chains in schools. When this effect in schools is embedded into the wider community, the impact is less strong, but still has some value in reducing overall R.” But it added: “The modelling of Scenario 7 is the least robust of the scenarios, and further exploration is needed.”

Under “behavioural factors” the committee’s advice stated: “Scenario 7 is likely to be the most effective strategy to make school attendance normative. If steps are taken to synchronise attendance for families with multiple children, this may be the most effective at enabling parents to return to work.

“Scenario 7b, where children alternate in and out of school on a weekly basis, was perceived to be potentially preferable – both developmentally and practically – for young children and working parents.”

Dear Gavin Williamson: teachers like me can no longer look to you for leadership | Gary Collins

The group looking at the role of children in transmission was most supportive of the reopening option involving split classes coming in on alternating weeks, across both primary and secondary schools.

“Although not initially one of the options proposed by DfE, options 7b (classes split in two, with children attending on alternate weeks) emerged from the joint discussions as having particular potential merit for further consideration,” according to one paper prepared for a meeting on 30 April, just days before Boris Johnson’s announcement on 10 May that primary schools would reopen.

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One paper prepared by Sage’s modelling and behavioural subgroups on 16 April warned that, as a result of school closures, some children would have “experienced a shock to their education which will persist and affect their educational and work outcomes for the rest of their lives”.

The experts conceded that “many children will adapt and be just fine”, with lockdown providing some families the chance to “bond more closely”, but they raised serious concerns about children who were already vulnerable, in particular those with special educational needs and disability.

A period of home learning, they added, would reinforce existing inequalities between children, while months off school would mean emerging learning difficulties were missed.

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Government under pressure to scrap plans to open schools to more pupils next month

Ministers are facing increasing pressure from council leaders and teaching unions to reconsider their plans to open primary schools in England to more pupils from next month.

Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire has joined a number of local authorities in advising its schools against reopening more widely to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from June 1 amid safety concerns.

Solihull Council, believed to be one of the first Conservative-led local authorities to question the Government’s proposed start date, has warned that some school places may not be ready for the first week of June.

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It came as a poll from teachers’ union NASUWT suggested that only 5% of teachers think it will be safe for more pupils to return to school next month.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the union remains “unconvinced” that wider reopening of schools from June 1 is “appropriate or practicable”.

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The survey, of nearly 29,000 NASUWT members across England, found that around nine in 10 teachers believe that social distancing will be impossible, or will present major issues and a similar proportion are not confident that the proposed measures will protect their health or the health of pupils.

It also found that 87% of teachers believe that PPE is essential to protect staff against the virus.

Dr Roach said: “The results of our survey underscore the fact that the Government has thus far failed to win the trust and confidence of teachers about the safety of reopening schools.

“It is now imperative that the Government takes every available opportunity to provide the necessary assurances that teachers are seeking.”

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The union leader called for all the scientific evidence from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to be made available to teachers and school as soon as possible.

It came as education unions told the PA news agency that they were due to meet Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on Tuesday as part of a weekly conference on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on schools.

Last week, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), told teachers not to attend any planning meetings about schools reopening from June 1.

In a Zoom meeting with union officers, held on Thursday, Dr Bousted said: “The timetable is reckless. The timetable is simply not safe, it is not fair, it is not feasible.”

Calderdale Council became the latest Labour-led council in the north of England to advise its schools against a wider reopening from June 1, following similar actions from Bury, Liverpool and Hartlepool.

Sefton Council will suggest schools reopen from June 15 to allow time for an “appropriate risk assessment”, the Merseyside local authority has said.

A number of local authorities in England have acknowledged safety concerns among parents and teachers over the date, but they have not urged all their schools to reject the proposed time frame.

Leaders of Birmingham City Council have sent a letter to parents and school staff saying that they will only support schools opening to more pupils “when it is safe to do so”.

The statement says: “We recognise that for some schools, opening to more pupils safely may not be possible on June 1, while parents and guardians must also feel reassured.”

It adds: “We trust that head teachers will make the right decisions for their school communities.”

Stuart Guest, head teacher at Colebourne Primary School in Birmingham, has told parents that he does not plan to open more widely on June 1 because “the risks are too great”.

In a letter to families, Mr Guest wrote: “We would still be endangering the lives of my staff and the community we serve if we rushed a wider opening.”

John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the decision to reopen primary schools is a political decision but he said it may be that children are less likely to transmit coronavirus to others.

He told the House of Lords science and technology committee: “Clearly the decision to open primary schools or not, is a political one, it’s not a scientific decision. Scientists can offer some advice.

“It looks like the risk to children is low, and that the vast majority don’t have significant symptoms.”

He added: “So the risk to others may be relatively low, but overall you have to weigh up those risks with other things, risks to community, clearly we can’t keep children off school forever, and so on and so forth.

“The actual decision, and weighing all of those things, needs to be done by politicians.”

On Monday, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said Boris Johnson’s administration was right to start reopening schools as he said some children will have received “no education at all” during closures.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We want children back in schools as soon as possible because being with their teachers and friends is so important for their education and their wellbeing.

“Plans for a cautious, phased return of some year groups from June 1, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice. The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.

“We have engaged closely with a range of relevant organisations, including the unions, throughout the past eight weeks, including organising for them to hear directly from the Government’s scientific advisers last Friday, and will continue to do so.”

Press Association

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Students ‘must be warned if courses taught online’

Students applying for university places in England must be told with “absolute clarity” how courses will be taught – before they make choices for the autumn, says the university watchdog.

Courses might still be online – and Nicola Dandridge of the Office for Students warned against misleading promises about a “campus experience”.

University campuses have been closed this term by the Covid-19 outbreak.

But universities can charge full fees even if courses are taught online.

“The important thing here is absolute clarity to students, so they know what they’re getting in advance of accepting offers,” Ms Dandridge told MPs on the education select committee.

“What we don’t want to see are promises that it’s all going to be back to usual – an on-campus experience – when it turns out that’s not the case,” said the chief executive of the Office for Student (OFS).

The OFS says this information should be provided for students before they make a firm choice in June – and “certainly before” the clearing process that follows students getting their A-level grades in August.

If universities have to update plans after students have made a decision, the OFS says universities should release students from any acceptances and allow them to “change their minds”.

Applicants this year will be waiting to see whether courses will be taught by distance learning or on campus, or a combination of both – and whether they will have accommodation, which might be limited by social distancing.

Ms Dandridge told MPs that before students make decisions they need to know “what they are getting”.

She suggested a likely outcome would be “much greater and more sophisticated use of blended learning so that’s face-to-face plus online,” she said – and that it must not only be “bunging lectures online”.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has already said that even if their courses are only taught online, students would still be liable for the same full tuition fee as those being taught in-person.

The University of Manchester has said that its lectures will be online next term – but it wanted to allow small group teaching as soon as safely possible.

Other universities are considering a delay to the start of the autumn term – and there have been suggestions that some more “hands-on” courses will be taught first on campus while others might remain online.

Universities are facing their own cash problems from an anticipated reduction in the number of overseas students.

Debra Humphris, chair of the University Alliance group of universities, said the scale of the financial challenge would not really be clear until the end of the autumn admissions process.

She said support from the government would bring forward existing money to help with cashflow, but “it’s not additional funding”.

Jo Grady, leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, told MPs there needed to be clear guidance from the government on how and when universities should reopen buildings in the autumn – and not to leave decision to institutions in competition with each other.

She warned that financial pressure could mean “some universities will rush to re-open”.

“They will want to promise students that they will be re-opening next semester in order to attract those students, rather than have them go somewhere else”.

Dr Grady said that university campuses would not be easy places for social distancing – and that lecture halls would bring together “two or three hundred people”.

“Students go from cafes to libraries to restaurants – everywhere is always rammed,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said universities were “already preparing for a range of scenarios – including periods of online study in the academic year 2020-21”.

“Institutions will be communicating their plans to prospective and current students in the weeks ahead.”

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‘Not safe to reopen schools,’ warn teachers’ unions

Plans to reopen primary schools in England do not have adequate safety measures and need to be halted, warns an alliance of school teachers’ unions.

A joint statement from heads, teachers and support staff unions calls on the government to “step back” from a 1 June start date.

But in the House of Commons, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned against “scaremongering” over safety.

He said “the disadvantaged will suffer the most” with closed schools.

“Sometimes scaremongering, making people fear, is really unfair and not a welcome pressure to be placed on families, children and teachers alike,” he told MPs, in questions over the return to school proposals.

Teachers are already a priority for testing for coronavirus, but Mr Williamson said that pupils would also be a priority for testing if they or their families showed symptoms.

But the Liberal Democrats’ education spokeswoman, Layla Moran, challenged the education secretary to immediately publish the scientific evidence on which the return to school was based.

In a collective response, teachers’ unions have rejected the plans for a phased return of primary school pupils after half term – saying it was still too early to be safe.

“The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools,” said a statement from nine unions, including the National Education Union, the National Association of Head Teachers and Unison.

The union called for a delay to reopening until a “full rollout of a national test and trace scheme” was in place and there were extra resources for cleaning, protective equipment and risk assessments.

“Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules,” says the statement, which calls for a new taskforce, including teachers’ unions, to plan the return to school.

The joint union statement says that “classrooms of four and five-year olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread”.

“We call on the government to step back from the 1st June and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools.”

But Mr Williamson told MPs that opening schools was the “responsible” course of action, now the virus was “past the peak” and that safety was uppermost in how it was being planned.

“The best place for children to be educated and to learn is in school,” he said, particularly for the disadvantaged who would be most likely to fall further behind.

Instead of a fixed date for a return, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, argued that schools should reopen only when there was clear evidence it was safe.

“The guidance provided so far does not yet provide the clear assurances over safety that are needed,” she told MPs.

She said that families were still worried about the implications of pupils going back to school, such as for relatives who might have illnesses.

In Wales, the First Minister Mark Drakeford has said schools would not open on 1 June.

In Scotland, it is not expected that schools will re-open before the summer holidays.

In Northern Ireland, Education Minister Peter Weir has spoken of a possible phased return of schools in September.

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Colorado’s public colleges face budget crisis decades in the making

By Jason Gonzales, Chalkbeat Colorado

In 1983, Nate Easley attended Colorado State University and received $900 federal grants each year that almost covered his annual cost of tuition.

CSU tuition has grown tenfold in nearly four decades, and state and federal support lag way behind, leaving Easley’s experience a distant memory.

“Higher ed is kind of out of reach for many kids now,” said Easley, who sits on the Colorado State system’s governing board and whose career has centered on college access. “One of the challenges of (this) generation is how to pay off college debt and get a start on life.”

For two decades, Colorado’s public colleges and universities have raised tuition repeatedly to keep schools afloat after the state cut higher education budgets following the 2001 and 2009 recessions. Each time, more of the institutions’ costs shifted to students and families.

The decades of disinvestment have placed Colorado universities in a precarious financial position with little margin to maneuver through the coronavirus pandemic. Students are already considering whether to stay home next fall. Raising tuition could cause enrollment to dip further, putting in jeopardy colleges’ main revenue source.

Unlike K-12, the state’s colleges don’t have guaranteed support from the state. And cuts over the years have placed Colorado near the bottom of the nation in public support for colleges and universities.

Even the most modest state budgetary reductions due to the coronavirus-induced recession are expected to diminish the ability of colleges to teach students. Deeper cuts — especially while the pandemic simultaneously prompts fewer students to enroll — could lead to the state’s more vulnerable colleges facing a death spiral.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit chalkbeat.org/co.

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A majority of students in Denver and Jeffco are engaging in online learning, districts say

Most students in Colorado’s two largest school districts are participating in remote learning, according to data from the districts. But statewide, it’s harder to tell how many Colorado children are learning from home while school buildings are closed due to the coronavirus.

That’s because districts are taking different approaches to tracking student attendance. The state isn’t requiring districts to collect the data, and not all of them are. That doesn’t necessarily mean attendance is low; teachers are still checking in on their students, and some are going to great lengths to reach those who aren’t participating.

But the lack of data means it’s difficult to get a comprehensive look at who’s learning and who’s not. And the reasons that students might not be showing up to class — lack of internet access or the need to work — raise concerns that the students who faced the steepest challenges before the pandemic will be the most behind whenever school returns to regular session.

Even the attendance data that is available contains a lot of gaps.

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is attempting to track the daily attendance of its approximately 92,000 students. But it hasn’t been easy. The district started remote learning on April 7 but doesn’t have reliable attendance data from the first two weeks.

Last week, 82% of students were engaged in remote learning, a district spokesperson said. By way of comparison, that’s 8.6 percentage points lower than the same time period last year, when schools were in session as normal.

Read more at chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit chalkbeat.org/co.

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