CU Denver to begin furloughing employees in July

Most University of Colorado Denver employees will be subject to a furlough plan beginning in July and potentially lasting through June 2021, according to an email announcement sent to employees on Wednesday.

A furlough is mandated, unpaid leave and not considered a layoff, the email explained.

The plan outlined in the email about pandemic-related budget cuts is set up in six tiers with employees who earn less than $60,000 annually exempt from furloughs and those earning more than $180,000 assigned 26 furlough days — amounting to a 10% reduction in salary for the highest earners, the email said.

The four tiers between those salaries will take 12, 16, 20 and 24 furlough days depending on income.

The furlough plan will apply to most CU Denver employees and administration. Graduate assistants, temporary student employees and university staff who are part of Central Services and Administration units that support both CU Denver and and CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus are not subject to furloughs.

All CU Denver cabinet, deans and other officers will be furloughed at the sixth tier.

“Our people are our most important asset and our highest investment, and salaries represent approximately 70% of our expenses,” the email said. “We must take steps that, unfortunately, will have a direct impact on most of our employees. We will be asking for a shared sacrifice among faculty, staff and administration, with the largest contributions from our leadership and highest earners.”

Due to state higher education budget cuts and costs incurred from the new coronavirus pandemic, CU Denver estimated a “conservative” budget shortfall of $33 million.

The email said the campus would be tapping three main “buckets” to make up for this shortfall: campus reserves, operating expenses and compensation.

Each area would be reduced by approximately one-third, the email said.

Anyone with questions about the furloughs can attend a CU Denver virtual town hall from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday that will later be posted on the university’s YouTube page.

 

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Universities beware: shifting classes online so quickly is a double-edged sword

When lockdown began, universities had to shut up shop like any other non-essential service. But something extraordinary happened: universities around the world went online almost overnight, showing remarkable determination to continue providing their students with lectures, seminars and tutorials.

But can this rapid shift to online teaching and learning actually work in the long term? Several problems have already emerged. Online teaching needs more than just the basics. Lecturers need access to a computer that supports teaching software and a reliable internet connection. Meanwhile, for students, even basic hardware and software are far from guaranteed in many homes, as families share equipment and internet providers struggle with increased traffic.

If universities shift online, we risk more poorer students dropping out | Chris Skidmore

There are also structural issues with internet privacy and security. Online teaching potentially exposes students to unreliable data protection laws in many countries. Neither freedom of speech nor privacy can be guaranteed for students’ ideas and personal data. This is no small matter for universities, given they are meant to be sites of free academic discussion and debate. Online universities can hardly be free when the internet itself is unfree.

The problem is exacerbated when universities rely on large corporates like Microsoft for online platforms such as Teams. Universities have little control over how online platforms are run and priced. In the overnight dash to online teaching, they have also shown little caution in both contributing to profit-making of corporates and compromising data on servers universities themselves do not control. Imagine students agreeing to give up their ideas and information to be stored at an unknown location and with little control over how they are used in years to come. Knowingly or unknowingly, universities may be contributing to surveillance capitalism.

The hardware and software for online teaching are not insurmountable issues, but they do require some deep reflection and open conversation. Should universities invest in home-grown open-source software? Can they provide foolproof platforms which do not compromise the security of students? Unfortunately, this conversation has been sidelined, even halted, by the rush to go online. But if online teaching is to continue beyond this pandemic, this conversation should be had.

There are also important questions to be answered about the best way to teach online. We need to question the assumed value in simply going “live” on camera. Recorded lectures simply replicate the passive learning environment of classrooms, and online seminars and tutorials fail to elicit meaningful student interaction.

Instead, let’s reimagine online teaching. For this, we may have to get away from the concept of contact hours in lectures, seminars and tutorials. Instead, there should be longer-term engagement from students through discussion forums or weblogs which allow sustained, freewheeling conversation.

‘I can’t get motivated’: the students struggling with online learning

On my own human rights course, we allow students to develop arguments in turn, like chain novelists, over the course of several days. Tutors act as moderators and respond to students outside of class hours, in a way that gives them greater control of their own schedule and priorities. More time does not necessarily contribute to more screen time. This gives students more freedom to reflect and respond with deeper thinking and more sophisticated arguments than is possible in a classroom setting.

In fact, the greatest value of online learning can be in building a community. More importantly, it can diversify the student community by reaching out to learners who aren’t able to be part of a residential university environment, both locally and internationally. This includes mature students returning to university to learn new skills, people with disabilities, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Open and free higher education will be particularly important as we rebuild our society post-coronavirus pandemic. Cultivating healthy and curious minds may be no small contribution in a public health crisis. Let’s hope the shift to online gives universities a renewed sense of public purpose.

  • Shreya Atrey is associate professor in human rights law at the University of Oxford

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Are schools ready to open or are children being used as guinea pigs? Two sides of the debate

Plans to start gradually reopening schools have proved controversial, with unions challenging the government over its target for some classes tor return on 1 June.

Schools have been told to prepare for early year settings, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to the classroom in smaller sizes from the start of next month, and to start reintroducing more face-to-face lessons for Year 10 and Year 12 students.

All primary school students would also be back in school for a month before summer under the government’s goal – advice one headteachers union has told its members to ignore as it is not “realistic”.

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The Independent spoke to Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis trust – an academy trust with around 50 schools in England – and Alex Rawlings, the headteacher of Quarry Bank Primary School in the West Midlands, about their differing views on plans to get children back to school as the country faces the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Are you planning on reopening your school(s) on 1 June? Do you support these plans?

Steve Chalke: “Yes. But it is an important thing to say that some won’t be reopening at all, because they never shut. I think that has been lost in this conversation. Many of our schools have stayed open throughout to care for and work with the children of key workers and those who are most vulnerable. What we will be doing on 1 June in scaling up what we are doing a little bit.

“Our plan at one school is different for the plans for each of the other schools. We have 35 primaries. The reason they are different is because we have 35 different buildings. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some have wider corridors, some have narrower corridors, and they have different size classrooms, for example.

“We are supportive of the government plans to open schools on June 1 because we are ready. Oasis is having a conversation in each locality with its school leaders, its parents, its community. We are talking with the unions and the government and that is why we are going to open on 1 June.”

Alex Rawlings: “We are planning on a phased return of school on 2 June. We will be using 1 June to prepare the classrooms and school site. Our children in Early Years will start on 2 June followed by our Year 1 and Year 6 children on 8 June. We will remain open for our key worker and vulnerable children.

“I wholeheartedly support the return to school for children, but only when we know it is safe.

“The government has not done enough to convince a lot of parents nor school leaders that it is safe to return.”

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2. What are you planning to help your school reopen to students?

Steve Chalke: “In some of our schools, we are doing a rota. Instead of having children in all day, we are having a cohort in the morning, and a different cohort in in the afternoon … There is a gap when we can cleanse everything, clean it down, wipe everything.

“Some schools will have fewer children in a classroom than others. The government has said you can have up to 15 in a classroom. Depending on the sizes of our classrooms, we are deciding how many children can go in them.

“We have ordered and have got PPE equipment … Any staff member or any child that wants PPE, it is there for them.

“The way Oasis is geared up is there is a central team that supports all our schools. Some of this work, like ordering of PPE, has been done centrally so we can make sure all our schools have got that. We prepared a whole list of questions for our schools to ask themselves as they get ready.

“We have done a full risk assessment of each individual schools, so we have had a meeting for all 35 schools … and we worked out the bespoke plan for each of the schools in that meeting.”

Alex Rawlings: “I’m currently putting together plans to return as safely as we can. Some of those plans include additional hand washing stations, spacing of tables and chairs in classrooms, purchasing lidded bins so that waste can be disposed of according to the governments guidance, and buying coloured wristbands so groups of children can identify themselves from other groups and keep their distance.

“It is however incredibly hard to plan for the reopening of school when the guidance changes on a daily basis. Boris Johnson originally said only Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children were to return, then the guidance made reference to nursery and even now government officials neglect to mention nursery children returning also.

“Schools had invested significant resources to planning a return that made sense to them and their communities. The government also released a document on Friday night explaining that schools should avoid using rota systems to accommodate children. Hundreds of schools would have been back to square one of planning, with only two weeks, including half-term, until schools are expected to open to those year groups.”

3. What are the main difficulties schools face with regards to opening during coronavirus?

Steve Chalke: “You should never do anything you haven’t thought about and carefully planned for. To open without doing the planning we have been able to do is a risk too far.

“But then there is another answer. In the end, it isn’t PPE and it isn’t actively planning and risk assessment forms that get you there: it is trust.

“The real foundation on which phased return to any school is built is trust. By that I mean, trust between school staff and leaders, and trust between parents and the school. If you have got all that trust going on and good communication, that is the final ingredient you need to open school. If you don’t have trust and a good relationship, it will be really hard because scaremongering breaks out and rumours start flying.”

Alex Rawlings: “Inconsistent guidance from government which causes a lack of confidence in reopening and the logistics of following the guidance are hugely limiting.

“Gavin Williamson said we were having a tentative start of reopening schools, when actually he has insisted that four out of eight year groups attend school. Those classes are halved, which requires double the space and double the supervision, which means that schools have to be at 100 per cent staffing capacity to safely open. With lots of adults shielding or self-isolating, schools do not have the staffing capacity to reopen – we will only just be able to, hopefully.

“The most difficult aspect to sort is to try to increase parental confidence in school’s ability to keep everyone safe. Everyone knows it is going to be impossible to keep 3 and 4 year olds apart at a distance of two metres. In every workplace in the country you are to socially distance unless you have adequate PPE. Schools have been told that social distancing isn’t attainable whilst working with children and that it isn’t recommended that schools use PPE routinely.

“Adults will never have confidence in government plans to reopen until they can tell everyone what makes a school classroom uniquely safe when compared to any other workspace in the entire United Kingdom.”

4. What are the benefits of getting children back in the classroom, as opposed to home learning?

Steve Chalke: “I think they are huge. A report done for the Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown a massive gap between the rich and the poor in the amount of homework study being done. It said the more middle class you are or wealthy you are, the more digital access you have, more laptops and and the more time parents have got to spend with you … But it is much worse than what they are saying.

They are saying across this period, wealthy children will have done seven days more work by the end of this than others. I think this is woefully underestimated. All our schools are in poor communities, some of our kids haven’t been receiving dinners as government system has failed all together.

“Why do we need to get these schools open? For learning to continue. Around four million children in England live in poverty. The children commissioners office say two million live in homes where there is domestic abuse, where there is parental substance misuse or parental mental health issues. All of those figures come before lockdown. How do you think those figures have gone up? The longer these children wait for a return to school, the greater the negative impact on their learning, their health and on their safety.”

Alex Rawlings: “The benefits to getting children back are clear – children will receive improved education provision and they will see their friends, which is really important.

“Parents have worked incredibly hard with their children at home but it is very difficult to turn a dining room in to a classroom and it is obviously not as successful as being in a classroom environment.”

5. What are your concerns (if any) about the plans to reopen on 1 June?

Steve Chalke: “Where the type of things we have been talking about haven’t been done, I would be very wary of opening a school. But I think there are still two weeks to go.

“My advice is to a school that is on its own, that don’t feel they have got the support they need, I think I would really happy to provide people with an understanding of the kind of approach we have adopted.”

Alex Rawlings: “Children are being used as guinea pigs.

“The government are trying to push a narrative that if you care for children then you will promote the reopening of schools. Every member of our school staff cares deeply for the children in their care and want nothing more for them to return, but only when it is safe to do so.

“There has not been enough time, clear guidance or scientific evidence to suggest that it is the right time to do so.

“Everyone keeps referring to the Danish model and how that has worked. It is a ridiculous comparison. Denmark’s deaths are in the hundreds, ours are in the tens of thousands. Denmark were one of the first countries to close its schools (we were one of the last) and they returned when only a few hundred people were in intensive care being treated for coronavirus, we have thousands.”

6. Do you feel the science is clear enough to show schools are safe to reopen on 1 June?

Steve Chalke: “Yes. I think the problem is the unions and all the people commentating on this aren’t the scientists. So what we have tried to do throughout the whole process has really talk to people who are in the middle of the science. I heard Brian Cox say – and I agree with this totally – anyone who tell you they are following the science doesn’t understand science. Science is a debate.”

Alex Rawlings: “On Friday night, the government released the science that was supposed to convince schools that it was safe to open. This document contains no science, just a regurgitation of their own guidance.

“The science hasn’t been adequately shared despite it being promised. The Department for Education’s own scientific advisor conceded to having not read the guidance and had not been consulted about reopening of schools during an Ed Select Committee meeting, only for the Department for Education to release a statement later saying that he knew.”

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Split classes, outdoor lessons: what Denmark can teach England about reopening schools after Covid-19

In the week leading up to the reopening of Denmark’s schools a month ago, Dorte Lange spent a lot of time on Skype. The vice-president of the Danish Union of Teachers was responsible for detailed negotiations with the education minister, the health authorities and other teaching unions. The aim was to make sure that everyone was happy with the safety measures put in place to ensure an orderly return of younger pupils to classrooms on 15 April.

“As unions, we were taken so much into account and we were consulted so much that we felt quite safe about this,” Lange says. “We said to our members that we think that we can actually trust the authorities and that it will be OK to go back.”

The Danish transition from lockdown to a reopening of schools has become the go-to model for Boris Johnson’s government as it seeks to coax teachers and unions into going back to work from next month.

“Schools have started to return in Denmark and have not seen a negative impact as a result of that,” the secretary of state for education, Gavin Williamson, told unions last week. “This has reconfirmed this approach is the right approach.”

And, indeed, it has been – for Denmark. But does that mean it is necessarily the right one for Britain? Lange says: “The situation in society and with Covid-19 is totally different [in the two countries]. If you, in general, have the experience that you can trust the government and the authorities, then you are more likely to do so.”

When will UK schools reopen – and how will they keep children safe?

The Danish reopening has, so far, been smooth. The country’s R number rose briefly in the two weeks after pupils up to the age of 11 returned, creeping up from 0.7 to 0.9, but it has since fallen back. On Friday, the country passed a major milestone: the first day without a death from coronavirus since March. There were just 137 people being treated in hospital for coronavirus.

The reopening of schools – which has seen classes split in two to keep two metres between each child, more lessons taught outside and a rigorous hand-sanitising regime – has not led to a spike in cases among staff. “We have seen very few incidents where teachers have become ill with coronavirus,” Lange says.

But as well as being one of the first countries to reopen schools, Denmark was also one of the first to close them, with its prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, imposing a lockdown at least a week ahead of the UK.

On 13 March, the day the Cheltenham Festival drew nearly 70,000 people, Denmark closed its borders. It had ordered schools to close two days earlier, and on 17 March, it closed restaurants, bars and most shops, limiting gatherings to 10 people. So, by the time primary schools reopened, the pandemic was already under control, with 200 people being treated in intensive care with coronavirus – about 3.5 for every 100,000 citizens.

Callout

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There is also a sharp contrast between the acrimonious handling of the negotiations in the UK and those that were held by Lange and others. While the UK government has been wary of sharing the scientific advice it receives, the process in Denmark began with the publication of a report from the country’s infectious diseases agency, SSI. This modelled the likely effect of reopening, based on the assumptions that children spread the infection at the same rate as adults and have no ability to socially distance.

SSI concluded that, although the R number would increase, this was likely to lead to only 264 coronavirus patients in intensive care at any one time.

Teachers’ unions accepted SSI’s conclusions and used them as the basis for the negotiations over guidelines. “We’re not scientists, we’re not professors of epidemiology, so we don’t know anything about that. We have to trust the authorities,” Lange says, adding, however, that she doesn’t blame her British counterparts for acting in the way they have.

On Friday, she had another Skype call with Denmark’s education minister. This time, it was partly about the return of older pupils tomorrow, which will mean a return to more crowded classrooms. But it was also about how to retain some of the positive aspects of the school regime of the past month.

“We can see now very clearly that smaller groups bring a higher degree of wellbeing for the kids, and give the teachers more contact with the kids during the day,” Lange says.

“We are looking at whether we can continue that, and maybe shorten our school day a bit, with fewer lessons but with a higher degree of contact with students.”

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Call for free school meals during half-term and summer in England

More than a thousand councillors across England have written to the government calling for free school meals (FSM) to be provided over the half-term and summer breaks, after ministers said there were no plans to fund them during the forthcoming holidays.

At Easter, vouchers were made available at the last minute to help support the most disadvantaged families and the councillors warned they would now face “holiday hunger” as the Covid-19 crisis continues.

Ordinarily FSM are only provided during term time, but the government made an exception last month because of the unprecedented levels of disruption and uncertainty facing schools and parents.

How can I protect myself and others from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Advice about face masks varies. Wearing them while out and about may offer some protection against both spreading and catching the virus via coughs and sneezes, but it is not a cast-iron guarantee of protection

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area. 

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

Councillors are calling for greater support for local authorities to help vulnerable families and have urged the government to extend its food voucher scheme to those eligible for FSM during future holidays.

The letter, addressed to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “As you will know, holiday hunger is an issue for many families and we would like your assurances that families eligible for FSM will be given food vouchers to sustain them during the summer holidays. We believe that this should become a permanent fixture within our school system, so no child need go hungry during the school holidays again.”

Councillors also raised wider concerns about vulnerable children hidden from view during the lockdown and rising levels of domestic violence. “We would ask that the government continue to work with local authorities and schools to ensure vulnerable children do not ‘slip through the net’ and the necessary financial support is available to councils to support families fleeing domestic violence,” the letter said.

Earlier this week the children’s minister, Vicky Ford, responding to a parliamentary question, said the government had no plans to extend the scheme into future holiday periods, but the situation would be kept under review.

The government’s FSM voucher scheme, administered by the French-owned company Edenred, has been widely criticised by headteachers who have struggled to access the scheme and parents who have suffered long delays before receiving their vouchers.

Tulip Siddiq, the shadow minister for children and early years, said: “Many more children are going hungry in this crisis, so this is absolutely not the time to be withdrawing support for free school meals.

“There have been huge admin problems with the free school meal voucher scheme which we have been urging ministers to sort out, but it is a terrible mistake to take this crucial support away at a critical moment.”

Lawyers representing three children, whose mother is a care worker for older people, have launched a legal challenge against the exclusion of children from low-income families from the FSM scheme.

Following an earlier legal challenge, the government was forced to extend FSM eligibility to families with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) due to their immigration status, including those who are permitted to work.

Callout

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Ministers now face a further challenge over a decision to set the earnings threshold at £7,400 per year, far lower than that set for other families eligible for the same support, excluding working families on a low income who are unable to access welfare benefits, including carers and NHS staff on the minimum wage.

Rachel Etheridge, a solicitor at Matthew Gold and Company, said: “Capping earnings at the equivalent for a family in receipt of means-tested benefits disregards the fact that NRPF households will not be able to supplement their income with means-tested benefits and will therefore be left surviving on much less than their counterparts who are able to claim benefits.”

Schools in England were closed on 20 March to all pupils, except children of key workers and pupils classed as vulnerable to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Keeping vulnerable children safe is our priority, which is why we have kept school places open for these children and are giving councils more than £3.2bn of additional funding to support services, including children’s social care. The government has also announced £76m in support for vulnerable people, including those in danger from domestic abuse”.

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Why Colorado school districts are serving fewer meals during coronavirus closures

By Erica Meltzer, Yesenia Robles, and Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee

One of the first considerations for any school district thinking about closing school, even for a single snow day is: How will children eat?

As schools across Colorado closed in March to slow the spread of coronavirus, food service directors and cafeteria workers swung into action, setting up an extensive network that has handed out hundreds of thousands of meals, many of them to families short on food for the first time.

But despite extensive efforts and growing need, these meals remain millions short of what districts would have served in normal times. Districts have been unable to approach pre-pandemic meal counts for a range of reasons, including confusion over the rules, lack of transportation, and narrow pickup windows that don’t meet the needs of harried parents.

The districts that have bucked this trend, like Westminster Public Schools, have done so by leveraging strong community networks and ramping up delivery options.

A Chalkbeat analysis of data from the first month of food distribution found that many metro area school districts are serving less than half of the meals they would have served if school were in session, in some cases much less.

During the first month of school closure, Denver Public Schools served just 12% of the student meals it usually serves while Jeffco Public Schools served just 16% of what it normally would have served to students. Some districts are reaching a larger share of students, like Aurora Public Schools at 34% and Adams 12 Five Star Schools at 57% of their normal meals. Westminster Public Schools, meanwhile, is providing 125% of the student meals it did when school is in session.

Read more at Chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news organization covering education issues. For more, visit chalkbeat.org/co.

 

 

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The expert in social mobility who says education cannot make it happen

‘I want to see social mobility rising once again,” said prime minister Tony Blair in 2004. “We can unleash the biggest wave of social mobility since the second world war,” said prime minister Gordon Brown in 2010. “I want to see a more socially mobile Britain,” said David Cameron in 2013. “I want Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy,” said Theresa May in 2016.

The politicians’ message has been consistent. But so too has been the message from Britain’s leading sociologist, John Goldthorpe, emeritus professor at Oxford University. The politicians have it all wrong. Social mobility did not, as they assume, rise after the second world war. Nor, as they also assume, did it decline from the 1970s. And crucially, education, which they believe to be the engine of social mobility, has played no such role and, without reforms far more radical than any yet contemplated, can never do so. Britain is as far away from meritocracy as ever.

It’s not schools and universities, but differences in home environments, and particularly the time parents can give their children, that are the obstacles to equality of opportunity, Goldsmith argues. “People find that very hard to accept,” he tells me at Nuffield College, Oxford’s main centre for social science since 1937. “Family is a good thing. Equality of opportunity is a good thing.” But we can’t eradicate all the ways in which families give their children advantages. “Would we want to stop parents from reading bedtime stories or engaging in supper table debates? Of course not.”

Goldthorpe has studied class and social mobility for more than half a century, using studies that followed thousands of Britons from birth through their school and working lives. He invented the seven social classes – from higher managers and professionals at the top to “routine occupations” at the bottom – now used in official statistics.

A grammar school boy who read history at University College London and did a PhD in sociology on a miners’ welfare scholarship, he was born and bred in an isolated Yorkshire mining village where his father was a colliery clerk and his mother a dressmaker. Both had left school at 14. Goldthorpe’s life is a model of the upward social mobility that thousands from backgrounds like his experienced from the 1940s.

So why does he insist that conventional wisdom about social mobility and education’s role in it is wrong? In a recent book, Social Mobility and Education in Britain, written jointly with Erzsébet Bukodi, a Nuffield colleague, he distinguishes between absolute and relative mobility. Absolute mobility is your chance of ending up in a different social class from the one you were born into. That is around 80% and has been remarkably consistent for at least a century; if anything, Britain has slightly more mobility than other European countries. But the movement is often small: from class 2 to 1, say, or from class 5 to 6.

Relative mobility is different. That is your chance, if you started in, say, class 6 or 7, of making it to, say, class 1 or 2 compared with those who started at the top. Here, if you start at the bottom, you are many times less likely to make it to the top than somebody born there. That remains as true as ever, say Bukodi and Goldthorpe. Neither grammar schools nor comprehensives made any difference either way.

What has changed, however, is the availability of top jobs. In the 1950s and 1960s – Goldthorpe calls it “the golden age” – professional and managerial jobs more than doubled as a proportion of the UK labour market. That spurred a dramatic growth in upward mobility, which far exceeded downward mobility. There was, to borrow the title of a 1950s novel, “room at the top”. Now the growth in top jobs has slowed. Social mobility hasn’t disappeared, but for those born since the early 1980s, it is at least as likely to be down as up.

“It was a positive-sum game when you could have increasing numbers moving up without anybody moving down,” Goldthorpe tells me. “Now it’s a zero-sum game. Nobody can move up without others moving down to make way.” When he tried to explain this to Blair in 2001, an aide interrupted: “But Tony can’t possibly go the country on a platform of increasing downward mobility!” As Goldthorpe observes, “Downward mobility is a taboo subject in politics.”

“Loss aversion”, as psychologists call it, dictates that those who now occupy managerial and professional positions will do all they can to protect their children from falling down the social ladder. They will pay for the best pre-school provision, buy houses in areas with high-performing state schools, hire private tutors, and arrange educationally enriching experiences. In the most extreme examples, women, whose social mobility patterns are now otherwise similar to men’s, move into low-grade part-time work to maximise their availability to their children.

“That’s the phenomenon of the tiger mother,” says Goldthorpe. “She is highly educated and could be competing for high-end jobs but deliberately chooses not to.” But, he adds, her partner is usually a well-paid professional or manager. “My daughter who has a PhD in virology works as a part-time science writer. She is married to the head of a top German technology transfer company.”

Even if children from the top social classes fail at school, they often fall on their feet. The majority of men with the double handicaps of low qualifications and socially disadvantaged backgrounds end up in the working class and only 16% become professionals. But of similarly qualified men from the most advantaged homes, only a fifth sink to the working class and nearly half stay in the managerial and professional class.

How do they manage that? “Some get jobs in a parent’s business. Others in the service sector, selling to people from similar social backgrounds: high-grade travel firms, marque car dealers, high-grade hotels and restaurants, fashion shops.” Typically, they are versions of Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice-But-Dim.

Can education be made more effective in countering the advantages of the already advantaged? “I would support lotteries for allocating secondary school places,” he says. “And to even things up, you could give disadvantaged parents vouchers to buy private tuition for their children.”

Abolishing private schools, he says, wouldn’t make much difference, except at elite levels of the civil service, the judiciary and so on, because it involves such a small proportion of children.

But before meddling further with education, Goldthorpe argues, governments should develop an industrial strategy that creates more good management jobs and also upgrade welfare services such as old people’s care which, instead of providing mostly unskilled and low-paid jobs, could be turned into a profession. We need to get back to the golden age, he and Bukodi argue, when jobs that offered a secure, regular income and prospects of career progression steadily increased. Instead, we’ve moved in the opposite direction to the insecure, dead-end work of the gig economy.

“I’m not against education,” says Goldthorpe. “More people than ever have a chance to realise their academic potential. We’re a better educated nation now. And that’s what I think education ought to be about, rather than an instrument to achieve social mobility, which is taking it out of its proper sphere.”

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Prioritise play when schools reopen, say mental health experts

Child mental health experts have urged the government to prioritise children’s play and socialising with friends over formal lessons and academic progress when schools in England reopen and lockdown restrictions are eased.

They say they are “extremely concerned” about the impact of the lockdown and more than six weeks without face-to-face play with peers on child mental health. They are calling on ministers to ensure that play is at the top of newly permitted activities.

What are the UK government’s ‘five tests’ for ending lockdown restrictions?

The UK government has said that these five tests have to be met before they will consider easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions:

  • The NHS has sufficient capacity to provide critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
  • A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from Coronavirus
  • Reliable data to show that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
  • Operational challenges including testing and personal protective equipement (PPE) are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
  • Confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS

They are also calling for children to be allowed to play with their peers without social distancing as soon as it is safe to do so, based on a “risk-benefit approach”, recognising the benefits while ensuring children are not exposed to unnecessary risk.

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, said: “Returning to school after a long period at home will be challenging for lots of children. It will be especially challenging if they are expected to remain 2 metres away from their friends.

“We ask that, once it is safe to do so, the loosening of lockdown is done in a way that allows children to play with their peers, without social distancing, as soon as possible. This may mean that close play is only permitted in pairs or small groups or within social bubbles that allow repeated mixing with a small number of contacts.”

The experts, who specialise in child mental health and development, warn that children will be suffering from loneliness and isolation after being required to stay at home as part of the national effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

While ministers will be keen for schools to kickstart academic studies and begin the process of catching up on work missed, the panel of experts who represent five universities including Cambridge and Sussex, say play will be essential to help relieve stress and anxiety among children.

In a letter to the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, they write: “At this time, many children’s emotional health will be suffering due to loneliness and isolation. As experts in children’s mental health and development we urge the government to prioritise children’s social and emotional wellbeing in all decisions related to the easing of lockdown restrictions and the reopening of schools.”

Focusing on children aged 3-11, they recommend a series of measures to support children as the country emerges from lockdown, asking the government to ensure that children have the time and opportunity to play with their peers, both in school and outside.

They say schools should be given the necessary resources and guidance on how to support children’s emotional health and wellbeing as schools reopen and that “play should be a priority during this time, rather than academic progress”.

While many parents and teachers will be anxious about educational progress and health risks, the experts say the government’s public health message must highlight the social and emotional benefits of play and socialising with peers.

“We hope that when policy decisions are made in the coming weeks and months that children’s emotional health is given the consideration it deserves,” the letter says. “Poor emotional health in children leads to long-term mental health problems, poorer educational attainment and has a considerable economic burden.”

The panel based their recommendations on a “rapid review” of academic literature exploring the harmful impact of isolation on children and the alleviating benefits of play, including one study which found that children who experienced quarantine or social isolation in previous pandemics were five times more likely to need mental health interventions than those who did not.

Sam Cartwright-Hatton, professor of clinical child psychology at the University of Sussex, said: “All the research indicates that children’s emotional health is suffering in the lockdown and it seems likely that this suffering will, in many cases, continue into the long term. We are urging ministers and policymakers to ensure that children are afforded substantial, and if possible enhanced, access to high-quality play opportunities as soon as possible.”

Dr Jenny Gibson, senior lecturer in psychology and education at the University of Cambridge, added: “It’s easy to dismiss play as unimportant, but for children, playing with friends and classmates has a very significant impact on their social development.

“Critically, it is an important way of working through emotions and will therefore be one of the principal ways in which they cope with the isolating effects of the lockdown. For that reason it’s important that whatever steps are taken to ease social distancing restrictions, children are given time and space to play with friends.”

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The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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‘Humiliation’ as free school meal vouchers fail at till

“It was embarrassing, everyone was looking at us,” Susan Bleau says of the moment she tried to spend free school meal vouchers worth £45.

After weeks of delays, her daughter’s school had finally received the vouchers and printed them out for her.

But at the till, with a trolley full of shopping, the vouchers failed to scan.

Edenred, which runs the government scheme to give pupils in England vouchers worth £15 a week, says all of its vouchers are valid.

But ever since it was set up, in late March, the scheme has been beset by problems.

The system was rebuilt over the Easter break but the improvements were slow to take effect, with schools still struggling to log on, parents unable to download the vouchers and some even saying the vouchers failed when they tried to spend them.

Empty-handed

With the newly printed vouchers in her pocket, Susan and her 11-year-old daughter had taken the bus from their home in Wembley, north London, to Tesco at Brent Park and queued outside before picking out what they needed.

“We had everything – cheese, pizzas, yoghurt, smoothies,” Susan says.

But when they tried to use the vouchers to pay, they would not scan.

As the queue built up behind them, the cashier called the manager, who tried to enter the barcodes manually before pronouncing them faulty.

All the shopping had to go back and the pair had to leave empty-handed, humiliated and disappointed.

“You’re not the first and you won’t be the last,” Susan remembers one of the supermarket staff saying.

It was a Saturday, so all Susan could do was leave a message on the school voicemail and wait for replacement vouchers the following week.

“We had to live on what we had which, wasn’t enough but we had to cope,” she says.

Raphael Moss, their head teacher, at Elsley Primary, who knows of at least one other family this has happened to, says: “I can’t imagine how distressing and embarrassing that must have been.”

Poor copies?

Tesco says it is not aware of widespread issues when customers redeem their vouchers in its stores.

And Edenred insists every supermarket eGift voucher it sends to parents is valid.

The company suggests poor or damaged printed copies could be responsible for some of the failures.

But many school leaders believe the problem is not uncommon.

“This has happened to so many of our parents,” said one head on Twitter.

And Martin Knowles, head teacher of Essa academy, in Bolton, says about one in five of parents in receipt of the vouchers has had problems at the till.

He says the school is considering abandoning the Edenred vouchers and setting up its own scheme, at a cost of £8,500 a week, if the problems continue.

Chiswick School, in west London, continues to hear from parents whose redeemed vouchers do not work at the tills, according to school business manager Danny Sohal.

Other school leaders, from London, Cornwall, the West Midlands, and the north-east of England, have also experienced problems.

Edenred says it continues to make big improvements to its system and waiting times for schools and families to log on to the site have been “almost eliminated”.

More than £52m worth of eGift cards have been issued to schools and families since the scheme was launched, with 16,500 schools signed up, it adds.

The Department for Education says it is encouraging schools to make their own arrangements and to use Edenred only when that is not possible.

But many heads are worried about doing their own deals to provide food or vouchers, whether with local catering suppliers, direct with supermarkets or with other voucher specialists such as Wonde.

They believe their only option is to use Edenred, as it is fully funded and, if their budgets are in surplus, they will not be able to claim back money they spend on alternatives.

Indeed, guidance published by the DfE last month limits the schools able to claim back additional expenditure incurred because of the lockdown to those unable to meet the cost out of existing resources.

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The medical students who saved lives at Belsen

“It deeply affected him and his trust in human nature,” says Anne Stephenson of her father John Reynolds, one of 95 London medical students who arrived at the notorious Belsen concentration camp in May 1945 to help care for survivors wracked by disease and starvation.

The camp had been captured on 15 April by British troops who had no idea of the horrors they would find inside when the first tank pushed open the gates.

For the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby, the first broadcaster to enter the camp, it was “the world of a nightmare”.

About 10,000 dead bodies lay unburied, sanitation was non-existent.

There were 43,000 prisoners still alive, about two-thirds of them women, many so weak from starvation and disease they were unable to move from the huts where they were held and they were dying at a rate of about 500 a day.

The medical students, average age 21, were volunteers, recruited initially to help care for starving Dutch children but who found, just before they were due to travel, their destination had been changed to Belsen.

By the time they arrived at the beginning of May, most of the bodies had been removed but thousands of sick and dying people still languished in the huts.

“People in all stages of disease. Many were dead. Practically all were emaciated,” John Reynolds, then a 23-year-old student at St Thomas’s medical school, wrote later.

“Nearly all the internees had violent colic or diarrhoea.”

They were suffering from a range of diseases including cholera, typhus, tuberculosis, sores, boils and gangrene.

“The people themselves were, on the whole, hopelessly filthy with no sense of decency or pride in themselves, treating the dead as furniture and their beds as latrines.”

He carried these experiences with him for the rest of his life, says Anne, herself a doctor and a member of the academic staff at King’s College London Medical School of which St Thomas’s is now part.

“I remember once, we were all sitting having dinner and he suddenly said: ‘I remember a blonde woman and they shot her in the leg. They shot her in the leg.’

“He had post-traumatic stress disorder, honestly. He had terrible PTSD that was never treated.”

Led by senior military medical staff, the students helped halve the death rate within a month.

It tested both their medical skills and their personal stamina to an unimaginable degree, according to Westminster student Michael Hargrave, in his diary.

A major puzzle was what to feed the internees.

British army rations were indigestible to starving people and could kill them, a concoction called Bengal Famine Mix, was unpalatably sweet, and intravenous feeding threw some, who feared fatal injections, into panic.

Ultimately, diluted soup and glucose drinks worked best.

Deaths overnight

In pairs, the medical students were allocated to huts where each morning they would separate the living from those who had died overnight.

“The bodies are dragged out by those who can walk and then the Wehrmacht load them on to massive lorry trailers, guarded all the while, and bury them in immense graves,” wrote Guy’s student John Kilby in a letter to his mother.

Those needing medical help were gradually transferred to a makeshift hospital for 7,000 housed in a military barracks camp.

John Reynolds recounts how the huts were burned down one-by-one until only one was left.

On 21 May 1945 “an official ceremony of the burning of this last hut was attended by all those who worked in the camp… a volley was fired, the Union Jack unfurled and then the hut was burned to the ground by flamethrowers.”

A week later, the students’ month at Belsen was over and they were sent back to their medical schools.

“These days, of course, you would have a debrief and you’d have post-traumatic stress disorder counselling,” says Prof Stephen Challacombe, a professor of oral medicine at King’s and a medical historian.

“It was so stark, just, ‘Give up your uniforms, you’re back in civilian life’.”

Of the 95, despite being inoculated, two returned with tuberculosis and seven with typhus.

DDT was used liberally to kill lice and Anne Stephenson says her father always wondered whether the cancers he suffered in later life were connected with the pesticide.

In their later careers as doctors and academics “all the reports, to a person, talk about how magnificent they were”, says Prof Challacombe who has delivered a series of lectures on their story.

This year, to mark the 75th anniversary of their endeavour, King’s College Medical School, which, as well as St Thomas’s, also includes Guy’s, and accounts for 34 of the 95 students, is erecting plaques to their memory.

“When they were asked to go, they could never have imagined what they would walk into and do,” says Prof Challacombe,

Sometimes audience members bring their parents’ letters and diaries from the period, among them Gilly Kenny and Jenny Meade whose fathers, John and Bernard, were among the King’s College contingent and remained lifelong friends.

Gilly says it was after her father’s death when “we had to clear out all sorts of papers and we came across some that related to his time in Belsen… that it became a bit clearer”.

She found the lecture “very emotional… I learned a lot”.

Prof Challacombe believes the most difficult time for the students was when the patients were transferred from the huts into the hospital.

“There is a point at which numbers and bodies turn into real people… suddenly individuals in beds as opposed to a mass of individuals lying on a floor…

“They did feel it when those patients that they’d been looking after, trying so hard, then died, I think that would have affected them.”

He hopes modern day medical students will take a message from the story.

“I think understanding their sacrifice, understanding their willingness to get involved and to contribute is a real hallmark of medicine.

“I think there’s a lesson for me in helping people to understand you can attain those pinnacles and you can contribute, everybody can contribute however insecure they feel at the time.”

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