Brent teachers, staff and pupils 'desperate' for schools to reopen
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Teachers, pupils and parents in Brent have told the different reasons they want schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.
Boris Johnson has announced schools will remain closed and continue virtual learning until at least March.
The prime minister said he hopes to reopen English primary and secondary schools from March 8 depending on certain factors, including the vaccine programme.
Children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable are still able to attend school.
Daniel Coyle, headteacher of Newman Catholic College (NCC), in Harlesden Road, said his school accommodates for around 55 children in these categories while their other 800 pupils are taught virtually at home.
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“We are desperate to get back to school. Teaching is at heart a human activity and is rooted in the quality of our human relationships. Remote teaching does not support this principle," he said.
“However, the health of our nation must come first. If we have to maintain this provision until Easter then teachers will continue to do their best.”
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A year-11 student at NCC, Dillon Donnelly, said virtual learning can become “tedious” and “stressful” for students.
Dillon, 15, said: “We've got GCSEs coming up so going back virtually has put a lot more pressure onto us, students need to do better than they ever would in class, because that's probably how they're going to be assessed.”
It was announced in January all GCSE and A-Levels exams would be cancelled and students’ grades will be based on teachers' assessment of their standard.
Dillion said that online learning has vastly improved since the first lockdown and has provided more technological ways to learn.
He also said he is still able to participate in extracurricular activities like student council and London Citizens, which is leading a #dontzapthezip campaign against the removal of free transport for under-18s.
Schools and the government have had to tackle the "digital divide" by providing laptops and wi-fi boosters to children who do not have access to this at home.
Dillion and his brother in Year-9 were among the 300 students at NCC who have received laptops.
Dawn Titus, headteacher at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, in Goodson Road, Willesden, raised further challenges many families are facing during the pandemic, including low income and employment stability.
“The national lockdowns have added to the pressures of family life with the new expectation that parents have to play a more significant role in leading their children’s educational experience,” she said.
“Our expectations for them are still limitless as we know every child has the potential to make a significant impact in their communities and in the wider world and they will continue to thrive.”
A primary-school parent based in Kingsbury, Sanjana Karnani, said her daughter Deeva was faced with eleven-plus exam delays and her father becoming critically ill with Covid-19 over Christmas.
She praised her daughter’s school, Holland House, for doing an “exceptionally good job” remote teaching their 140 children since March.
Sanjana said: “Education is one thing, but I think the key thing is mental wellbeing and that's what the schools are giving to the children because they need a distraction.”
Another parent of an A-level student based in north Brent, Hema Mistry, explained the pressures on parents to ensure their child is attending class, turning in assessments and getting physical activity when they are working remotely.
As an NHS worker, her child qualifies to study at school but as she works remotely she chooses to give the space to parents who are front-facing key workers.
“I see how terrible it is. They are under so much pressure and we need to do our bit to support them and help them,” she added.
Alongside virtual learning, schools like St Joseph’s and NCC are working with charities and food banks to ensure families do not go hungry during this time.
Mr Coyle said: “The last eleven months has shown us not just what a fabulously important job it is but also what a transformative job it is in developing young people and keeping the country going.”