Image above: Cavendish Primary School; Google Street view
The schools were meant to be going back this week (5 January 2021). The majority of children and teenagers in Chiswick will be staying at home. Schools in LB Hounslow, Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham are amongst those forced to delay the start of the new term in the latest Covid-19 restrictions announced on Wednesday 30 December by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
At least Chiswick parents are clear. Not much notice for parents desperately trying to arrange child care or schedule home schooling for several children around one available computer, but as we’re in the highest tier, with Covid cases rising sharply before Christmas, both the need and the instruction to stay home is understood by parents and teachers alike.
Image above: Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking on BBC Andrew Marr show
Confusion elsewhere on whether children should go back to school
Elsewhere the picture is more confused. Boris Johnson went on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday to announce that there may be “tougher measures” announced in the next few weeks, and at the same time that schools are “safe” places to be. Parents should send their children to schools in areas where schools are open, he said, at the same time as teaching unions were calling for blanket closures.
The National Education Union joined the NASUWT on Saturday in calling for all schools to remain closed, to stop the rapid spread of the new variant of Covid-19. The union’s joint general secretary, Dr Mary Bousted, told BBC Breakfast on Saturday:
‘We know that pupils now can transmit the virus through their homes, through to their families and into the community, they’re the most effective transmitter of the virus’.
Less than three weeks ago, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, was threatening to take legal action against schools in Islington and Greenwich, for wanting to close before the end of the December term, because of the worrying increases in infection rates. As late as last Wednesday, two working days before the schools were due to open, primary schools in these boroughs were still being told that they would need to reopen this week. It wasn’t until Friday that Gavin Williamson announced they would be closing after all.
Schools in Derbyshire, Brighton and Birmingham are among those in areas where schools can remain open, where local councils have said they would back head teachers if they decided to close them.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham told Sky News the Tier system “confuses people” and called for “national arrangements through January.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also called for there to be a national lockdown, saying it was “inevitable” that more schools will have to close.
Images above: Cavendish Primary School; Strand on the Green Junior School
Reaction from schools in Chiswick
In Hounslow and Ealing Boroughs, primary schools will only be open from 4 January for children considered to be vulnerable and for the children of key workers. Secondary schools are also only open from 4 January for vulnerable children and children of key workers, with pupils who have exams in 2021 returning in the week beginning 11 January, before the rest of the school. Primary schools and secondary schools are currently expected to reopen fully on 18 January, pending review on 13 January.
Ruth Woods, Head Teacher at Strand on the Green Junior School, informed parents in a letter on 31 December, saying: ‘Please bear in mind that all our information is gathered from public briefings with no indication of what is to be announced prior to this. However, we have been planning for this contingency and our remote learning offer is ready to roll out for those children who will be learning from home.
‘Nobody wants to move to remote learning but, rest assured, we will do our utmost to make it work’.
Mr Murrell, Executive Head Teacher, and Mrs Coleman, Head of School at Cavendish Primary School, sent out a letter to parents confirming they would provide home learning activities through the online platform Google Classroom and that ‘we will do our best to keep you informed of any updates including arrangements for re-opening’. They ask that parents and carers do not bring children to school unless they have received confirmation from the school that they are either in the ‘vulnerable’ or ‘critical worker’ category.
Head Teacher of Southfield Primary School, Darren Jones acknowledged in his letter to parents on 31 December:
‘This will come as a huge disappointment, I know, that we have to move to Remote Learning for a few weeks as announced by the prime minister yesterday.
‘I want to assure you that we have listened carefully to your concerns from the first lockdown and have refined the system, as some of you experienced in the autumn term when certain year group bubbles had to self isolate… be assured we will work through this together as a Southfield Community’.
St Mary’s RC Primary School just has a brief message on its website, with further information promised on 4 January:
‘We are closed until 18th January, but open for Nursery, Key Worker children and our vulnerable pupils’.
Image above: Laura Ellener, Head Teacher of Chiswick School, with pupils (library picture taken before the pandemic)
Staff worried about their safety
Laura Ellener, Head Teacher at Chiswick School wrote to her parents:
‘The school community has coped admirably well during the pandemic and I know that this is a very worrying time for children and families. We understand there may be some anxiety around returning to school and our pastoral staff will be working with students to support them.
‘Some staff are also anxious about their own safety and some may have been asked to work from home while we remain in Tier 4. All of these are genuine challenges but we are working on these and aim for school to remain a happy place where students can relax and enjoy their learning’.
She sets out very clearly in her letter that students learning remotely from home will be expected to be ready for registration at the beginning of lessons, properly dressed, with the relevant books and equipment for writing and should be logged in for Tutor Time from 8.40am on Tuesday 5 January.
Images above: Students at Chiswick School
Teachers taken away from teaching to give Covid tests?
Chiswick School parents of students under 16 have to give their consent to their children being tested for Covid-19 at school by 9.15am on Monday 4 January. Older students need to give their own individual permission. Students whose parents withhold permission are still entitled to attend school.
Clearly the school is scrambling to work out how to deliver the testing. Ms Ellener promises further information later in the week, but notes:
‘When / if staff are involved in lateral flow testing they will take a register and then set work on Show My Homework/Google Classroom’.
LB Hounslow’s Cabinet Member for Education Tom Bruce told The Chiswick Calendar before Christmas that the lack of planning or communication from the Department for Education over Covid testing was ‘a debacle’.
‘Many of the Government’s decisions and changes have had support from school leaders, staff and local politicians from across the political spectrum. But the manner of this government’s interaction, and at times inaction with our schools, shows a complete disregard for schools, parents, and more importantly pupils’.
Image above: Police (library picture taken before the pandemic)
Who is considered to be a critical worker?
The definition of a ‘key’ or ‘critical’ worker is set out on the Department of Education website, which you can see here. It involves parents whose work is critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response and also those whose work is important for the EU transition process.
It includes those who work in health and social care, education and childcare and key public services such as people involved in operating the Justice system, religious staff, those working for charities and delivering key frontline services. It also includes journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.
It includes some, but not all, administrators in local and national government and those involved in the production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery of food and other essential items.
Police and others involved in maintaining public safety and national security, transport, border control, utilities, communication and financial services are also considered ‘critical’ workers by the government.
Schools ask parents to fill out a questionnaire about their job and they then write to families who fit the criteria, about their child’s education provision.
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