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Statement on the reopening of schools

Commissioner's statement on the reopening of the Island's schools

11th January 2021

I welcome the reopening of our Island’s schools today.

This past ten months has been an extremely challenging time, and every part of our community has suffered hardships and disruptions as a result of the pandemic. But we must continue to be mindful of the fact that the closure of our schools is – and must remain – a measure of last resort.

The expert advice provided by STAC is the best indicator of when such a measure is necessary for the protection of life and public health. Meanwhile, I urge States Members, professional colleagues, teachers, parents and carers to remain focussed on the fact that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, we are dutybound to protect all children’s human rights.

And when schools remain closed for protracted periods of time, the adverse effects on those rights, as well as on students’ physical and mental wellbeing, can be significant.

Schools are not simply institutions of learning. They are a fundamental and necessary part of every young life, providing invaluable support and protection to many. And, unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, the cost of staying away from school is simply too great.

However, if children, parents and teachers are to successfully manage the return to the classroom, then more support is going to be necessary.

First and foremost, perhaps, would be the provision of a clear and unified message from politicians – something I hope to see in the immediate future. There is enough chaos in young people’s lives at the moment, without the added confusion of mixed messages from our Island’s leaders.

Secondly, there is an urgent requirement for the government to set minimum expectations of online delivery. There are many pupils who are currently not in school, for a variety of perfectly valid reasons. Perhaps they are shielding a family member or themselves, or perhaps contact tracing or teaching staff shortages have meant that their particular cohort has been singled out. Whatever the reason, though, the fact remains that all schools need to be in a position to deliver high-quality home learning.

I would therefore like to see the immediate publication of minimum standards for online learning, in the form of written guidance, so that there can be a consistent offer across all schools in the Island.

Similarly, issues around digital exclusion must be directly addressed during this period. We know that some students still do not have access to the necessary technology to undertake home learning, and yet there seems to be continuing debate and uncertainty around whose responsibility this is.

The answer, however, is perfectly clear: as signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government of Jersey is ultimately responsible for eliminating any such barriers to a child’s right to access their education in the Island.

The promotion and protection of children’s rights is, of course, a balancing act, and we will continue to face the competing and developing challenges of Covid-19 for many more months to come. Which means that the situation will remain under constant review.

However, for now, the informed view is that schools can safely reopen. And it is imperative that each of us plays our part in providing Jersey’s young people with the necessary support, protection and reassurance to allow that to happen as easily and painlessly as possible.

Deborah McMillan

Children’s Commissioner

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