Abuja, April 16, 2019 Global human rights group, Amnesty International, has expressed readiness to discard all misgivings and forge a harmonious working relationship with Nigerian authorities.
Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, gave the assurance in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Tuesday in Abuja.
Ojigho said that the organisation had a standing invitation to the Nigerian authorities of its readiness to honour an invitation to discuss and resolve all grey areas.
“Amnesty Nigeria has a standing invitation to the Nigerian authorities that we are open to discuss with them whenever they call on us.
“We believe that these misunderstandings have come as a result of lack of clarity on the role Amnesty International plays.
” We are a watchdog, so to speak, we monitor, we document, we report; our role, essentially is to make government see those things that oftentimes attention is not drawn to.
“We are also solution oriented, we give recommendations in our interventions and we understand that there is need for constant dialogue,” she said.
She said that having regular contacts would help clarify the issues that the Nigerian authorities had with Amnesty International.
Ojigho observed that certain vulnerable individuals who were scared of the authorities unusually took their concerns to the organisation for intervention.
” If there are violation of rights, Amnesty International will speak about it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ojigho who spoke on the sidelines of a workshop on women, youth and security said that the organisation was committed to seeing the involvement of women in Nigeria’s security architecture.
‘The role of Amnesty International is to contribute to discussions around women, peace and security in Nigeria.
“We are every much involved to see a peace and security architecture that is country owned and that involves all the beneficiaries.
” Oftentimes, women voices are absent in the discussions; women are not represented in the decision making process,” she said.
She urged government to accommodate women in whatever decision it was taking to prevent or resolve conflicts and to rehabilitate victims of conflicts.
The workshop was organised by Women’s Rights Advancement Protection Alternative (WRAPA) with support from the British government
edited by Sadiya Hamzahttps://nnn.ng/we-are-open-to-amicable-working-relationship-with-nigeria-amnesty-international/
Buhari’s address at Ministerial Performance Review Retreat
ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, MUHAMMADU BUHARI, PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, AT THE FIRST YEAR MINISTERIAL PERFROMANCE REVIEW RETREAT
7TH SEPTEMBER, 2020,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the First Year Ministerial Performance Review Retreat. We are meeting a time that mankind is struggling to overcome the economic and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted life as we knew it. The consequences of the pandemic will no doubt influence our deliberations at this gathering, especially as we will have to adjust our policy approaches and methods of working going forward.
2. I stressed at last year’s Retreat that the Nigerian people expect dedication and commitment by all of us in implementing policies, programmes and projects to improve the quality of their lives and set Nigeria on the path of prosperity. I also reiterated the resolve of this Administration to set the stage for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years. Even today, these remain our overriding objectives.
3. The priorities we set for ourselves were around nine inter-related and inter-connected areas, which are: stabilizing the economy; achieving agriculture and food security; attaining energy sufficiency in power and petroleum products; improving transportation and other infrastructure; driving industrialization with a special focus on SMEs; expanding access to quality education, affordable healthcare and productivity of Nigerians; enhancing social inclusion by scaling up social investments; as well as building a system to fight corruption, improve governance and strengthen national security.
4. In the course of the past year, Ministers have rendered reports to the Federal Executive Council on their activities and outputs related to the achievement of these objectives. Some of the notable achievements include:
i. Economic recovery prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The economy recovered from a recession and we witnessed eleven quarters of consecutive GDP growth since exiting recession. The GDP grew from 0.8% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2019, but declined in the first quarter of 2020, as a result of the downward trend in global economic activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
ii. Implementation of a Willing Buyer, Willing Seller Policy for the power sector, has opened up opportunities for increased delivery of electricity to homes and industries. We are also executing some critical projects through the Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme, which will result in the transmission and distribution of a total of 11,000 Megawatts by 2023.
iii. On transportation, we are growing the stock and quality of our road, rail, air and water transport infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund projects are also progressing very well. These include the 11.9 km Second Niger Bridge, 120 km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and 375 km Abuja – Kaduna – Zaria – Kano Expressway. At the same time, we are actively extending and upgrading our railway networks, as well as our airports which are being raised to international standard with the provision of necessary equipment, to guarantee world class safety standard.
iv. The Government has continued to support the Agricultural sector, the key to diversification of our economy, through schemes such as the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative programme.
v. The work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) has resulted in Nigeria moving up 39 places on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking since 2015 and Nigeria is now rated as one of the top ten reforming countries. We are confident that the on-going ease of doing business reforms would result in further improvement of this rating.
vi. Nigeria’s Law Enforcement Agencies have significantly scaled up their footprint across the country. As part of the efforts towards strengthening our internal security architecture, the Ministry of Police Affairs was created. Amongst others, we have increased investments in arms, weapons and other necessary equipment, expanded the National Command and Control Centre to nineteen States of the Federation, and established a Nigerian Police Trust Fund, which will significantly improve funding for the Nigeria Police Force. We have also approved the sum of N13.3 billion for the take-off of the Community Policing initiative across the country, as part of measures adopted to consolidate efforts aimed at boosting security nationwide .
vii. Efforts are also being made to empower the youth and provide for poor and vulnerable groups by enhancing investments in our Social Investment Programmes.
5. These accomplishments are a testament to the fact that all hands are on deck in establishing a solid foundation for even greater successes in future.
6. Distinguished participants, when we met one year ago, little did we know that the world would be in a serious economic, social and health crisis that had left even the major economies in disarray, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as in other jurisdictions, the socio-economic landscape of Nigeria has experienced a severe shock. Nearly 55,000 of our people have been infected with the virus while we have recorded 1,054 deaths by 4th September. The economy contracted by -6.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year; normal schooling has been disrupted; businesses are struggling and in certain instances completely closed; many people have lost their jobs and earning a living has been difficult. It has been a trying time for all of us and particularly for those in the informal sector who make their living from daily earnings.
7. It has not been any easier for Governments, Federal and State alike. As a result of the poor fortunes of the oil sector, our revenues and foreign exchange earnings have fallen drastically. Our revenues have fallen by almost 60%. Yet we have had to sustain expenditures, especially on salaries and capital projects. We acted to mitigate the effect of the economic slowdown by adopting an Economic Sustainability Plan but we have also had to take some difficult decisions to stop unsustainable practices that were weighing the economy down.
8. The N2.3 Trillion Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), consists of fiscal, monetary and sectoral measures to enhance local production, support businesses, retain and create jobs and provide succour to Nigerians, especially the most vulnerable. In addition to improving the health sector, the ESP lays emphasis on labour-intensive interventions in agriculture, light manufacturing, housing, and facilities management. It also complements on-going major infrastructural projects in power, road and rail by prioritising the building of rural roads, information and telecommunications technologies as well as providing solar power to homes which were not hitherto connected to the National Grid.
9. Alongside interventions in these critical areas, including agriculture and food security, affordable housing, technology, health, and providing jobs for youths and women post-COVID; the ESP will also provide different avenues whereby Government will support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to enable them respond to the economic challenges of COVID-19.
This includes safeguarding about 300,000 jobs in 100,000 MSMEs by guaranteeing off-take of priority products; and Survival Fund to support vulnerable SMEs in designated vulnerable sectors in meeting their payroll obligations and safeguarding jobs from the shock of COVID-19.
10. Under the ESP MSMEs component, both the Survival Fund (Payroll support), and the Guaranteed Off-take Scheme, GoS, are to impact about 1.7 million individuals within a three to five months timeline. Also, 45 per cent of total business beneficiaries will be female owned; and 5 per cent of total business beneficiaries will be dedicated to special needs business owners.
11. In addition, under the Survival Fund (payroll support) scheme; 250,000 new business names are to be registered at a discounted rate of N6,000 by the CAC, but this will be free for the MSMEs; while 330,000 transport workers and artisans will get one-time grants of N30,000 each.
12. Following an MOU to be signed by BOI and the FG, the total beneficiaries for Survival Fund Scheme tracks are about 33,000 beneficiaries per State; with a minimum payroll support at N30,000 and maximum support is N50,000.
13. The COVID-19 pandemic, has led to a severe downturn in the funds available to finance our budget and has severely hampered our capacity to ..one of the steps we took at the beginning of the crisis in March when oil prices collapsed at the height of the global lockdown, was the deregulation of the price of premium motor spirit (PMS) such that the benefit of lower prices at that time was passed to consumers.
This was welcome by all and sundry. The effect of deregulation though is that PMS prices will change with changes in global oil prices. This means quite regrettably that as oil prices recover we would see some increases in PMS prices. This is what has happened now. When global prices rose, it meant that the price of petrol locally will go up.
14. There are several negative consequences if Government should even attaempt to go back to the business of fixing or subsidizing PMS prices. First of all, it would mean a return to the costly subsidy regime . Today we have 60% less revenues, we just cannot afford the cost.
The second danger is the potential return of fuel queues – which has, thankfully, become a thing of the past under this administration. Nigerians no longer have to endure long queues just to buy petrol, often at highly inflated prices. Also, as I hinted earlier, there is no provision for fuel subsidy in the revised 2020 budget, simply because we are not able to afford it, if reasonable provisions must be made for health, education and other social services. We now simply have no choice.
Nevertheless, I want to assure our compatriots that Government is extremely mindful of the pains that higher prices mean at this time, and we do not take the sacrifices that all Nigerians have to make for granted.
We will continue to seek ways and means of cushioning pains especially for the most vulnerable in our midst. We will also remain alert to our responsibilities to ensure that marketers do not exploit citizens by raising pump price arbitrarily .
This is the role that government must now play through the PPPRA. This explains why the PPPRA made the announcement a few days ago setting the range of price that must not be exceeded by marketers. The advantage we now have is that anyone can bring in petroleum products and compete with marketers, that way the price of petrol will be keep coming down.
15. The recent service based tariff adjustment by the Discos has also been a source of concern for many of us. Let me say frankly that like many Nigerians I have been very unhappy about the quality of service given by the Discos, but there are many constraints including poor transmission capacity and distribution capacity.
I have already signed off on the first phase of the Siemens project to address many of these issues. Because of the problems with the privatization exercise government has had to keep supporting the largely privatized electricity industry .
So far to keep the industry going we have spent almost 1.7 trillion, especially by way of supplementing tariffs shortfalls. We do not have the resources at this point to continue in this way and it will be grossly irresponsible to borrow to subsidize a generation and distribution which are both privatized.
But we also have a duty to ensure that the large majority of those who cannot afford to pay cost reflective tariffs are protected from increases. NERC the industry regulator therefore approved that tariff adjustments had to be made but only on the basis of guaranteed improvement in service.
Under this new arrangement only customers who are guaranteed a minimum of 12 hours of power and above can have their tariffs adjusted. Those who get less than 12 hours supply, or the Band D and E Customers MUST be maintained on lifeline tariffs, meaning that they will experience no increase.
Government has also taken notice of the complaints about arbitrary estimated billing. Accordingly, a mass metering program is being undertaken to provide meters for over 5 million Nigerians, largely driven by preferred procurement from local manufacturers – creating thousands of jobs in the process.
NERC has also committed to strictly enforcing the capping regulation which will ensure that unmetered customers are not charged beyond the metered customers in their neighbourhood.
17. In addressing the power problems we must not forget that most Nigerians are not even connected to electricity at all. So as part of the Economic Sustainability Plan, we are providing Solar home systems to 5 million Nigerian households in the next 12 months.
We have already begun the process of providing financing support through the CBN for manufacturers and retailers of Off Grid Solar Home Systems and Mini-Grids who are to provide the systems . The Five million systems under the ESP’s Solar Power Strategy will produce 250,000 jobs and impact up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation  This means that more Nigerians will have access to electricity via a reliable and sustainable solar system.
18. The support to Solar Home System manufacturers and the bulk procurement of local meters will create over 300,000 local jobs while ensuring that we set Nigeria on a path to full electrification. The tariff review is not about the increase, which will only affect the top electricity consumers, but establishing a system which will definitely lead to improved service for all at a fair and reasonable price. 
19. There has been some concern expressed about the timing of these two necessary adjustments. It is important to stress that it is a mere coincidence in the sense that the deregulation of PMS prices happened quite some time ago, it was announced on 18 March 2020 and the price moderation that took place at the beginning of this month was just part of the on-going monthly adjustments to global crude oil prices.
Similarly, the review of service-based electricity tariffs was scheduled to start at the beginning of July but was put on hold to enable further studies and proper arrangements to be made. This government is not insensitive to the current economic difficulties our people are going through and the very tough economic situation we face as a nation, and we certainly will not inflict hardship on our people.
But we are convinced that if we stay focused on our plans brighter more prosperous days will come soon. Ministers and senior officials must accordingly ensure the vigorous and prompt implementation of the ESP programmes, which will give succour to Nigerians.
20. In this regard, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has created credit facilities (of up to N100B) for the Healthcare (N100 Billion) and Manufacturing (N1 Trillion) sectors. From January, 2020 to date, over N191.87B has already been disbursed for 76 real sectors projects under the N1TRN Real Sector Scheme; while 34 Healthcare projects have been funded to a tune of N37.159B under the Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility.
The facilities are meant to address some of the infrastructural gap in the healthcare and manufacturing sector as a fall out to the COVID-19 pandemic and to facilitate the attainment of the Governors 5-year strategic plan.
21. Distinguished participants, to address our current economic challenges, and consolidate on our achievements over the past year, this retreat has been designed to:
Review the performance of each Minister in delivering the priority mandates, including programmes and projects assigned to them upon their appointment in 2019; Identify key impediments to implementation; and Re-strategize on how to accelerate delivery of results, given the current economic situation.
22. The retreat would also provide the opportunity to effectively evaluate the activities of the Ministries over the last twelve months with regard to the delivery of our agenda and promise to Nigerians.
23. The Ministers are urged to work closely with the Permanent Secretaries to ensure accelerated and effective delivery of the policies, programmes and projects in the priority areas. I have also directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to intensify efforts at deepening the work of the Delivery Unit under his coordination towards ensuring effective delivery of Government Policies, Programmes and Projects in the coming years. It is also my expectation that progress on performance of the implementation of the 9 priority areas will be reported on a regular basis.
24. In closing, I encourage optimal participation and contribution by all participants, while observing all the necessary safety protocols and compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
25. On this note, it is my pleasure to formally declare this Retreat open. I look forward to a very fruitful session and stimulating exchange of views.
26. Thank you.
27. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria. https://nnn.ng/buharis-address-at-ministerial-performance-review-retreat/
Ex-NAN staff emerges Acting Registrar, Federal Polytechnic Oko
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu has approved the appointment of a veteran journalist, Mr Obini Onuchukwu as the Acting Registrar of Federal Polytechnic Oko, in Orumba North Council Area of Anambra.
Onuchukwu’s approval followed the recommendation of the Expanded Management Committee (EMC), the highest decision making body of the Federal Polytechnic, Oko.
The approval of his appointment was contained in a statement by the Acting Registrar on Thursday in Awka.
The statement noted that his recommendation was unanimously made by members of the EMC consisting of the five principal officers of the Polytechnic and the representative of the Minister of Education.
It further noted that representatives of Executive Secretary of the Polytechnic’s regulatory body and the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) were also among those who recommended his appointment during its regular meeting, recently.
Until his appointment, Onuchukwu served as the Public Relations Officer and Chief Protocol Officer of the Polytechnic for about 10 years.
He also served as a Deputy Registrar of the Institution for eight years.
The Acting Registrar started his career as a journalist with the News Agency of Nigeria .
He also served as a two term chairman of Correspondents’ Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) where he won several awards.
He facilitated and participated in so many trainings of the Polytechnic with reputable Institutions of higher learning within and outside the shores of the country.
Onuchukwu replaces the former Registrar of the Polytechnic, Mrs Stella Njaka, who successfully served out her five year single tenure.
Edited By: Angela Okisor/Maureen Atuonwu (NAN)https://nnn.ng/ex-nan-staff-emerges-acting-registrar-federal-polytechnic-oko/
Edo 2020: Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu in mudslinging campaign – NAN
Ahead of the Edo Sept. 19 governorship election, the two leading candidates of the poll have thrown decorum to the winds with their adoption of campaign of calumy and mudslinging.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports incumbent Gov. Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the mudslingers.
Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu are among the 14 governorship candidates cleared by INEC for the Edo election.
Obaseki on Friday described Ize-Iyamu and former national chairman of the party, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, and their supporters as expired political forces that would meet defeat in the hands of well meaning Edo people at the poll.
Ize-Iyamu accused Obaseki to have allegedly planned to obtain a N20 billion bond loan from financial institutions to pursue his second-term ambition after allegedly draining the state treasury.
The Special Adviser to Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr Crusoe Osagie, however said: “Governor Obaseki has unwavering faith in his works and the growing support of millions of Edo people, who are the actual voters that will re-elect Obaseki for another term in office.”
He said “the avalanche of lies being bandied by Ize-Iyamu and his cronies who have run out of ideas in their desperate effort to sell a very bad product for the Edo gubernatorial election will not save them from their imminent defeat.
“When you have a candidate that is facing criminal charges for laundering N700 million at the same time he is trying to campaign for an election, then you can imagine that they are left with no other choice than to tell cheap lies just to get ahead.
“Ize-Iyamu knows beyond doubt that his political career will be terminated unceremoniously on September 19 by Governor Obaseki and no desperate lie can save him now.”
According to Osagie “Edo people have come to the full understanding of Obaseki’s brand of politics which is about the greatest good possible, for the greater number of people as against Ize-Iyamu’s retrogressive politics of converting public wealth to his personal property.
“A case in point is the trial he is currently facing in court. Edo people know Ize-Iyamu and his ways. They know they do not stand any chance in the coming election, hence, their resort to lies and campaigns of calumny.
“Edo State under Obaseki has since shaken off the last vestiges of bad governance which Ize-Iyamu is notorious for, and our people are determined, more than ever, to sustain the progress we have so far witnessed, with their votes.
“With Obaseki, trust, accountability to the people, integrity, our common dignity are the driving forces.
“These qualities have been demonstrated over and over again in the last three years and seven months, and a renewed four-year mandate from Edo people will turbo-charge us to deliver more dividends of democracy.
“Followers of the campaigns in Edo State, have in the past few days expressed their readiness to file behind Obaseki come September 19, on the back of our score card, that has moving stories of how Obaseki has reformed pension management in Edo State.
“From an era of pain, sorrow and death of pensioners in endless queues and during protests, to an era in which the people’s governor cleared all pension arrears that have accumulated since 1996.
“Our achievements in the education sector have been referenced by national and sub-national governments, who have come to Benin to learn how we transformed public education in our state.
“In sports, civil service reforms and the provision of infrastructure, and other sectors, our achievements are there for everyone to see.
“Edo State is now rated as the best place to live and do business since we rid our streets of political thugs who constituted nuisance to decent living and businesses. Expectedly, some of these thugs are today’s Ize-Iyamu’s cheer leaders.
“Edo is the only state today, where you can buy a plot of land, get your Certificate of Occupancy (C-of-O) in less than two months and build your house without any area boy coming to harass or intimidate you.
“These achievements and more, underpin Edo people’s faith in Obaseki and we are ready to keep things this way for another four years,” he said.
On his part, Ize-Iyamu through his Director of Communication and Media Campaign Organisation, Mr John Mayaki, accused Obaseki of draining the state’s treasury to procure his party ticket.
Mayaki in a signed statement condemned what he termed as “the Governor’s short-sighted and irresponsible indebting of the state for desperate and personally-beneficial political activities”, and warned financial institutions against granting fraudulent loans to the Edo Government.
He said: “After draining the state treasury with his corrupt 15 billion naira payout to the PDP tax-collectors for the party’s ticket, it has come to our notice that Governor Obaseki is now scurrying around to embark on another borrowing spree with a planned 20 billion naira bond loan from some financial institutions.
“We find it shocking that after the many tribulations Obaseki’s directionless and incompetent administration has caused in Edo State, the Governor is hatching fresh plans to mortgage the future of the state and her youths with additional loans to fund his desperate political agenda to foist himself on the people for another four years.
“Obaseki already racked up foreign loans that propelled Edo State to number two on the states with the most indebtedness in the country without any commensurate gain in infrastructure, the economy, and security.
“Efforts to get the Governor to offer accountability on what he did with the loans and the role his private firm, AfrinInvest, played in their acquisition all fell on deaf ears.
“It is therefore heartless, irresponsible, and unconscionable for such a man to even conceive obtaining another loan in the tune of 20 billion naira for his political godfathers in the PDP who are cashing in on his desperation and lack of integrity.
“We want to warn all financial institutions to honor the age-long freeze practice observed during election seasons and possible change of government and not grant any loan to the heartless Godwin Obaseki who appears to now be on a mission to completely sell-out our state and the future of our youths.
“We are also alerting the EFCC, ICPC, CBN, and other financial regulatory bodies to pay close attention to what is going on in Edo State.
“It is a known fact that Obaseki has never maintained any close tie with Edo State. He is a Lagos businessman who for long held his own people and state in contempt.
“Perhaps now that it is obvious that he will be sacked from office in September, his plan is to smash and grab before disappearing back to where he came from.
“For those of us who have no other place to call home apart from Edo State, these criminal plans and heist against the people will be fiercely resisted as we will not fold our hands and let a desperate stranger destroy our state.”
Edited By: Muhammad Suleiman Tola (NAN)https://nnn.ng/edo-2020-obaseki-ize-iyamu-in-mudslinging-campaign-nan/
Spotlight: UK teachers concerned over school reopening, call for national plan
When Emily Proffitt became headteacher of Cooper Perry Primary School in Stafford, England, in January this year, she oversaw a welcome assembly of around 230 children of the school. For months, that would be the size of her daily assembly.
Now, due to lockdown restrictions, Profitt’s school has only been able to host between five to 10 pupils daily.
“This has been the most challenging time in my career, not only as a leader but as a teacher,” she told Xinhua.
Before taking on the role at Cooper Perry Primary, Proffitt worked as a headteacher for around four years. Nothing, she said, had prepared her or her colleagues for this.
“What teachers and leaders of education have been through is unprecedented and nothing that any of us are trained or prepared for. It’s very much been taking it a day at a time and working with what we’ve got.”
CONCERNED OVER PREMATURE RETURN
Cooper Perry Primary school has remained partially open throughout to critical workers’ children, in line with government guidelines. Since June 1, Proffitt has been allowed to open up the school wider to Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children.
Now, with the latest British government guidelines published this week by the Department for Education, primary school headteachers are being given greater flexibility to invite back more pupils — but only if the schools have the capacity within existing guidelines and if protective measures are in place.
In the coming days, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is due to set out the details of his summer “catch-up” plans — which comes after he scrapped plans for primary schools to bring back all pupils for a month before the summer break.
For Proffitt, the level of uncertainty around the situation and lack of clarification from the government have affected the return of pupils to her school.
“Most of my parent community have chosen not to send their children back, we’ve had roughly 25 percent returned from the key year groups — not from the entire school,” she said.
“Gradually that’s starting to build now, because parents have found out that the other key year groups aren’t going back and that we’ve got a very short space before September — and we still don’t know what September is going to look like yet.
“Nervousness, uncertainty and not knowing what the future holds is making them more nervy,” she said.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of NASUWT — The Teachers’ Union, believed that most teachers and parents are rightly concerned about a premature return to school that could endanger lives.
“I think most parents want to be sure that when they send their child off to school that they’re going to be safe and we want that as well. It’s important that we put those safety concerns at the fore of whatever plans schools are doing to safely return,” he told Xinhua.
Only when children are safe to return does he believe that schools can consider what the nature of their curriculum is going to be.
“Whilst we want all children to be returning to their lessons, we also want to ensure that there’s breadth and there’s balance in relation to children’s learning,” he said.
NEW CHALLENGES FOR SCHOOLS
The lockdown has not only had an impact on the short-term closures of schools, but also has the potential to affect the long-term academic and emotional development of children.
This is something that Proffitt has seen firsthand at Cooper Perry Primary, where she has tried to encourage disadvantaged children to attend school through the lockdown.
For the Year 6 pupils who have returned they’re displaying more emotional issues now than before they left — with “more uncertainties, more anxieties that are building and developing” and that the teachers have to deal with.
“We’re putting programs into place for those who have returned, but of course they’re transitioning into high school very soon so to them this is huge — and they don’t know what that will look like in September either. So I think the long-term emotional effects on children will be our hardest battle,” Proffitt said.
Schools across the country have had to rearrange classroom layouts, hallways and play areas — but many buildings are old with limited flexibility for renovation.
For Cooper Perry Primary School, which is a mixture of a Victorian hall and new build classrooms, little pod areas have been introduced for early year children and tables have been turned into “L” shaped desks for those in the older years.
But this now means that a typical Year 6 class, which would have had 30 to 35 students before lockdown, can now just have a maximum of eight children in one classroom.
Then it comes to monitoring children’s play time, which is also having to be reconsidered.
“The younger children are harder to keep social distance than the older children. When they go out to play and they have their outdoor time naturally they migrate together. We’re not stopping that, we’re just trying to encourage that to be reduced throughout the day and the opportunity for that not to be there,” said Proffitt.
Official guidance from the government shows that it has been accepted that the two meter social distancing rule is not practicable in schools — so this has forced schools to find alternative solutions.
One of those solutions, Roach explained, is finding an educational and social bubble around smaller groups of children. This, he said, would minimize the levels of social interaction between increasing numbers of children, young people and adults.
“But is it sustainable? Well it’s only going to be sustainable if there’s sufficient space in schools to make it available and there’s sufficient numbers of teachers available to schools in order to teach in smaller group sizes,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest reassurance for a safe return of schools, Roach said, would be for the government to ensure teachers and parents have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) in schools.
CALL FOR NATIONAL PLAN
In March, the British government shut schools to all children but those of key workers and who were vulnerable. Since then, individual schools have been given the responsibility to make their own way to a safe reopening.
On Monday, Education Secretary Williamson said he wanted to make sure as many pupils as possible could get back into the classroom before summer to “support their wellbeing and education.”
But according to Roach, a rush to bring schooling back has seen education not feature as central to the government’s plans, but rather on how schools could help to play a part in the reopening of the economy as childcare locations.
“They’ve focused on childcare. For us, that’s not good enough,” Roach told Xinhua.
Roach believes key investment needs to be made into educating children through this period, especially those who have been more disadvantaged compared to other classmates during the pandemic, and not just using schools as “provisions of childcare for arbitrarily selected year groups of pupils.”
He called for a decisive national plan for the return of schools.
“We also need to recognise that you can have a national plan but each school has its own idiosyncrasies, its own unique features and characteristics, its own catchment which will impact how any national plan needs to be translated in practice,” he said.
According to Roach, giving head teachers a degree of flexibility about how to apply a national government framework for the safe return of individual schools, where that school could meet the safety standards, would help to bring schools back to be fully operational.
“We’d love nothing more than to have all of our children back in school,” said Proffitt.
“However, I will not open my school fully until we are given the health and safety green light to be able to do it,” she said.