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Roadmap outlines challenges of getting children back to school

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The potential challenges of accommodating more pupils in schools have been outlined in a roadmap for education by the Isle of Man Government.

The framework, which has been shared with all teachers and their unions, builds on the Government’s medium-term response to COVID-19 and has been drawn up after discussion with education professionals and on the basis of scientific evidence.

Most schools were closed on 23 March, with the exception of nine primary school hubs and the five secondary schools, which still accept vulnerable children and those of key workers.

Since then the Isle of Man Government has held regular meetings with teachers and unions which have allowed for concerns and ideas to be shared around how more pupils could be accommodated in hub schools.

Dr Allinson MHK, Minister for Education, Sport and Culture (DESC), said:

‘Any decision to increase the number of children in schools will be made in a gradual, phased approach and based on the latest available health data and on clinical advice. The health and wellbeing of pupils and staff is our main priority.’

Careful workforce planning and changes to usual school practices will be essential during the process of allowing more pupils to attend hub schools. Clear strategies will also be put in place to safeguard the most vulnerable pupils and staff.

The roadmap outlines many of the potential challenges of accommodating more pupils in schools including physical distancing, increased hygiene and cleaning, adapting the school day and transport.

Families and carers need to be fully confident that allowing their children to return to school is safe. Public Health advice has been sought on risk assessments and the latest national and international evidence on how COVID-19 can effect young people is being constantly reviewed.

Schools and education staff have been included in the latest testing strategy, enhanced school cleaning has been planned and guidance on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been issued to all head teachers.

Dr Allinson continued:

‘The main ambition of any change will be to address the educational requirements of the pupils and it is suggested that whilst initially the key worker definition can be expanded to include those working in the construction, trades and horticulture sectors, subsequent phases should concentrate on key transitional groups. The most vulnerable pupils will be prioritised.’

The current policy for schools will be regularly reviewed and any changes only made after consultation and on the basis of the latest health information and medical advice. A sudden and uncontrolled opening of schools will not be allowed.

It is accepted that for the near future there will be a minority of pupils and school staff who will not, or cannot return to a school environment even with safety modifications.