When are the schools going back?

Images above: Sign outside Strand on the Green School in March – photograph by Jennifer Griffiths; sign outside the school in May – photograph by Joanna Raikes

Primary schools will reopen ‘at the earliest’ on 1 June, as part of Boris Johnson’s ‘conditional plan’ for reopening the UK. The reopening will begin with the youngest pupils in Reception and Year 1, plus Year 6.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the move would only go ahead if ministers “can be sure of children’s safety”. He also said he wanted schools in England to return at the same time:

“It is best, and the government has said this repeatedly, that we move as a whole nation, and that would include of course the whole of England in doing so.”

But more than 35 councils in England have warned that not all of their primary schools will be ready to reopen on 1 June. Both Hounslow and Ealing boroughs have put out statements saying it won’t be possible for all primary schools to open on on 1 June or even on the same date. It has to be down to individual schools to decide when they think it is safe and practicable to open.

Images above: Signs outside Strand on the Green School in March – photograph by Jennifer Griffiths; sign outside the school in May – photograph by Joanna Raikes

Schools in Hounslow & Ealing will open when they’re ready

Cllr Tom Bruce, Hounslow’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth & Children’s Services said:

“The Prime Minister’s statement last week regarding the reopening of schools has caused a great deal of concern and confusion for schools, staff, parents and young people alike. Sadly further guidance from the DfE and government has only added to this confusion and raised more questions than it has answered.

“It is highly likely that parents will find that there are different offers across our schools … Some schools may be able to welcome back year group quickly, while others may need more time.”

Leader of Ealing council, Councillor Julian Bell, said:

“Keeping everyone safe during this pandemic remains the council’s top priority. Ealing schools should only open to more pupils when they are ready to do so”.

Hounslow schools – won’t all choose the same date

Cllr Tom Bruce said:

“I want to be very clear with the whole Hounslow community that, like all parents and teachers I have spoken to recently, I want schools to re-open as soon as possible but only when it is safe for them to do so. Ensuring the safety of our staff, parents and young people is my highest priority. I am a teacher myself, and also a parent of young children, and I fully share your concerns.

“In the last week my department has written to all headteachers in the borough offering our support and outlining our expectations. We will support all schools in their decision making regarding their re-opening and re-integration of staff and young people, when those decisions are supported by a robust risk assessment. Headteachers, and their senior leaders and governors, with their knowledge of their school are best placed to make a judgement on these critical issues, but the council will offer support and guidance wherever necessary.

“It is highly likely that parents will find that there are different offers across our schools, which will be determined by individual school factors such the size and layout of the site and the number of pupils in each year group. Some schools may be able to welcome back year group quickly, while others may need more time.

“If they haven’t already, schools will be writing to all parents sharing their plans for re-opening, and in the first instance please direct any queries you have to your child’s school. They will be best placed to help.

“I will continue to listen to the government, scientific advice, unions, staff, governors, parents and young people, and the position on schools re-opening, like with all things relating to Covid-19, is constantly under review. I also call on the government to build a consensus on the wider opening of schools that parents, carers, families, teachers and pupils can get behind: publish evidence, work with professionals and unions, get testing and tracing in place, and use learning from other countries”.

Doing the right thing “may not fit with the expectations or timescale of the Government”

Steven Forbes – Executive Director of Children’s & Adults’ Services, said Hounslow was determined to do the right thing for children, families and schools.

“This may not fit in with the totality of expectations or timescale of the Government”

He also made it clear that parents would not be punished if they decided not to send their children back when their schools reopened. In a letter to parents across the borough he wrote:

“I do want to reassure you that in making the decision not to send your child/children to school during this time, you will not receive any sanction from the Local Authority”.

Image above: Southfield School before the coronavirus epidemic

Ealing schools – majority won’t reopen before 15 June

Cllr Julian Bell said:

“Our advice to schools continues to be that they shouldn’t reopen to meet an arbitrary deadline. We have been having productive conversations with schools about phased return of these year groups during the first few weeks of June. We don’t expect the majority of our schools to return before 15 June.

“To ensure that our youngest residents and our teaching staff remain safe we have been working in partnership with school leaders, school staff, parents and trade unions.

“Each school is different; heads and governing bodies are best placed to know what measures are needed to be put in place to enable them to reopen safely. They know their pupils and staff and their personal circumstances. The government will confirm if its test to move to the next phase of easing lockdown, including the return of some pupils to school, have been met by the end of the month. The council has provided schools with guidance to assist schools in making decisions.

“Ealing is a richly diverse borough, this is one of our greatest strengths. A government study has found that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have a higher risk of serious illness and death. We know that across all ethnic groups, older people are at greatest risk from this disease. Therefore, it is important to consider children and staff who live in inter-generational households and the possible impact on their loved ones, particularly if they are from a BAME background.

Parents won’t be fined for not sending their children back

“Many people will have lost loved ones and will be cautious as lockdown eases. We fully understand and share parents and teachers’ concerns about the safe return to school for children and teachers. We want to do everything we can to support them. I can reassure parents that they won’t be fined if they choose not to send their children back to school at this time.

“We know that some of our teachers are shielding, older and from BAME communities and so risk assessments need to be carried out, some of these people will not be able to return to work straight away.

Prime Minister’s ambitions “neither realistic nor safe”

“Each school is carrying out a detailed risk assessment so that they know whether it is safe to open or not. Everyone knows it will be very difficult for social distancing to be observed by very small children which is why we can only teach these children in very small groups. This means fewer pupils can be taught per teacher. Given this we don’t believe that the prime minister’s ambition to have the remaining year groups back at school by the end of July is realistic or safe.

“As the prime minister announced the easing of lockdown, we were told that the government’s track and trace system would soon be operational.  It has yet to be rolled out, which compounds the difficulty in opening schools quickly. Track and trace information must be shared with councils and schools so we can act quickly to contain an outbreak if a pupil or member of staff get COVID-19.

“We all want children and young people back into education. It is the best place for them to learn and it is good for their mental wellbeing, general health and social skills. To combat inequality, it is even more important that children from less advantaged households who may not have access to computers and restricted home learning go back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.

“Our public health professionals are continually reviewing the most up to date data and have confirmed that our cautious phased approach is the right course of action.

“Nearly all of our schools have remained open throughout the crisis so that key workers children and other eligible children have been able to stay in school.

Teachers deserve recognition

Our teachers are the best of the best and deserve thanks and recognition for everything they have been doing throughout this crisis. Whether they have been in the classroom or helping parents to support children to learn from home. I want to thank them and parents for everything they have done.

“Alongside Cllr Yvonne Johnson, I will be writing to all parents to set out our approach and provide the reassurance they need that the safety of their children is and will remain our top priority.

“We will continue to be in contact with the Department for Education, so they are aware of the issues affecting Ealing schools.

“I believe that a planned, cautious and robust evidence-based way out of lockdown is the right course of action for our schools.”

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