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School children in assembly

This is a big, positive week for children. It is brilliant to see schools reopening, and to see the Government keeping its promise that schools would be the first to reopen. While there are bound to be a few bumps along the way, I know how pleased and excited most children, parents and teachers will be to be back in school again.

All of us know just how much our children have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. They have made so many sacrifices – adapting to home-learning, missing their friends and relatives, not being able to do so many of the things that children love to do. Their lives have been disrupted and many have struggled. It is so important that they are able to catch-up on the essential experiences of childhood as life begins to return to normal.

Catching-up will of course include learning, and I do think that is achievable. Let’s not panic children about the lessons they’ve missed, or about how far they may have fallen behind. We are the adults, and we need to show them that we know how to look after them and to help them through this.

That’s why one of the first people I spoke to during my first week as Children’s Commissioner was Sir Kevan Collins, the Government’s “catch-up Tsar”. I’m pleased his focus will be as much on helping to boost children’s wellbeing and catching-up on their social experiences as it will be helping them to catch-up with their learning. Giving children opportunities to rediscover play, sport, clubs and activities and spending time with their friends should be one of the foundations of helping them to get back on track.

While most children will be delighted to return to school, we should also remember there will be some who may have preferred learning from home. These are children who maybe find school a stressful experience, or who have enjoyed the control and flexibility of remote learning. Some are children with Special Needs or Disabilities that make school particularly challenging. We should listen to those children to make sure we hear about the positive things they have discovered during the past year, and do our best to hold on to them for the future.

It has now been almost a year since the beginning of the disruption to children’s lives and some children have spent the best part of a year out school. All of us will be hoping that the end is now in sight and that there will be no more national lockdowns of schools. I’m in no doubt that the experiences of this last year will have changed our children. It’s our job to make sure it changes them for the better. They should leave this pandemic with the knowledge they were able to weather the trickiest of storms, and that we are there to help them through the next stage. That should give them great confidence for the future.

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