Eastbourne schools react to lockdown: ‘It has been an exceptionally anxious and unnerving time’

Schools and colleges in Eastbourne have said the government U-turn on closing schools and cancelling exams has put them in a ‘difficult situation’.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on January 4 that all pupils across England, except children of key workers and vulnerable students, will move to remote learning until the February half-term.

Special schools and nurseries remain open.

The decision to close schools and colleges came after education unions told the government that opening after the festive break would be a risk.

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At first schools and colleges were told there would be a staggered return in the New Year, but then it was announced in the Prime Minister’s televised speech that as of January 5 all schools and colleges would in fact move to remote learning.

Due to the chaotic year schools and colleges have had, the PM also made the decision to call off all summer exams for GCSE and A level students.

Emily Beer, headteacher for Willingdon Community School, said, “It has been an exceptionally anxious and unnerving time for the school community.

“We were frustrated with the last minute U-turn from the government but at least relieved that we can now plan remote learning up until February half-term.

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“At Willingdon, we had an incredibly successful live lesson curriculum which we have implemented again for all year groups coupled with supplementary study.

“We also have included assemblies and support for the mental health and wellbeing of our student body.”

Ms Beer said the parent body have been ‘incredible at coping with the changes’ and a emergency email has been set up to respond to issues.

She said, “The news about the cancellation of exams was a bombshell and it is crucial we now support our young people in deciphering what this means. The news caused much anxiety and demoralised feelings.

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“We will work hard to ensure we work with our other local schools and follow the guidance to ensure we have a robust but fair system.”

Tom Lawson, headteacher of Eastbourne College, said, “The Covid numbers at the moment make it very difficult for anyone to find the right answers, but the government decision-making on schools has felt desperate and incoherent throughout the pandemic.

“Cancelling exams this year and last is a mistake. Remote learning and social distancing can be made to work for taking exams; it is all the other important parts of education that suffer most when children are not in school.

“While it was a last minute change in government policy, Eastbourne College has been able to provide children with high-quality remote learning instantly.

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“Like many however, we would always hope to teach in person. To achieve this, in December we rolled out a system of high accuracy instant home testing which would have entailed our whole school community being tested twice a week from January 3.

“What we had ready in place would have seen the school and wider community protected by much-improved Covid prevention for our returning pupils.

“It is welcome news that, the health secretary has acknowledged a ‘very strong case’ for teachers to be prioritised for vaccination once the most vulnerable groups in society have been inoculated.

“In the meantime, quality is the central principle for delivering the best educational experience to our school community.”

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Headteacher at St Catherine’s College Solomon Berhan added, “This is such a difficult time for everyone, but within the school community it has been incredibly heartening to see the way people have pulled together.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the local support we’ve received and thank all our staff, students and parents for their wonderful response.

“I’m also so grateful to the many people who have St Catherine’s College in their thoughts and prayers at this time.”