On June 1st some schools in Somerset will be receiving pupils who have not attended school since the Government introduced lockdown. Selected Year groups will be introduced to a different way of working, as social distancing is introduced to their school. Somerset County Council has relied on decisions being made locally at school leadership level while some Multi Academy Trusts have either made an announcement that their schools will be open on a certain date. Labour councillors are not happy with the decision believing it will be an anxious time for parents, carers and the school workforce and are backing teachers unions.
Robin Head Somerset NEU, made their position clear, saying “In line with the BMA and independent SAGE group we feel that wider opening of schools on this date presents a risk to the public which need not be taken. It absolutely agrees with the consensus that children should be in school, as much as soon as they can, however the conditions need to be as safe as they can be.”
Schools have been open for vulnerable students and students of key workers all through this crisis including during the Easter holiday. Teachers have been providing as much education as they can via various virtual platforms supported by parents home tutoring.
Robin added “In recent weeks Headteachers and all staff have worked incessantly to provide risk assessments and plans so that schools can be ready to receive more students when wider opening occurs however we feel the general conditions are not right at this moment for the following reasons:-
- We do not feel that the Government has passed its own test of having a functioning test track and test system in place.
- We are concerned that scientific evidence from independent SAGE suggests that if schools waited 2 more weeks to reopen the risk of students becoming infected halves and that if schools waited until September as the independent MiIlfield School is doing those reinfection rates become reduced to “virtually zero”.
- We are concerned that a recent study has shown that the South West is currently second only to the West Midlands in terms of reinfection rates. Our R number is calculated in range which could take it as high as 1.2 beyond the realm of acceptability even in the Government’s own thinking.
- The enforced closure of Weston General Hospital because of Corona-virus is a demonstration of this and means that if the wider opening of schools does happen there may be an upsurge of cases and Somerset’s capability to cope would be significantly reduced.
- Most predictions are that two thirds of parents of children in the County share the same huge anxieties of teachers and also believe that schools should not be opening more widely from June 1st.”
Somerset ‘should have shown more leadership’
Somerset NEU believes that Somerset County Council should have shown more leadership among councils in the South West and followed the example of a great many other councils around the country who have refused to put arbitrary dates for schools to reopen more widely. Robin adds “We feel that despite the concerns raised by the NEU and despite showing willingness to work with us in terms of risk assessment, the council have not taken seriously enough the potential risks to our students and their families or staff and their families. This we feel puts lives in the community at risk also by potentially allowing infection to be incubated in schools and then spread more widely as children and staff return home. We sincerely hope none of our fears materialise however, why take the risk? From our communications it seems clear that whilst June 1st has been advertised as an acceptable date for wider opening no one organisation including SCC seems to want take ultimate responsibility for individuals becoming ill or worse. By saying it’s up to schools to decide what is right, but that June 1st is encouraged, it seems that individual schools will be left to take responsibility instead. We feel this is far too great a moral burden to lay upon hard working Headteachers and their staff teams.”
Coming out of Lockdown ‘too soon’
Former Teacher and Labour Councillor Mick Lerry (Bridgwater, Victoria) says “There will be some concern at all levels that the coming out of lockdown will be too soon. South Korea has had to impose further lockdown precautions due to a spike in infections. The person responsible for test and trace, has stated that the system will not be fully functioning until the end of June. SAGE scientific advisers have informed the Government that the opening up of the economy after lockdown is going too quickly, which could lead to another spike of infections.”
Mick added “The ‘road map’ for the future of schools coming out of lockdown has not been outlined by the Government. Social distancing will mean that school are not large enough for all year groups to SAGE scientific advisers have informed the Government that the opening up of the economy after lockdown is going to quickly which could lead to another spike of infections. lessons. The Government has given the go ahead for certain year groups, with the knowledge that full time education will not be achievable, because of social distancing. If schools start to include all pupils, this will have to be on a part time basis. Some year groups or pupils will have to attend school on certain days, weeks or sessions to be educated. The Government might even relax social distancing to allow a larger number of pupils to attend classes”.
The Labour opposition in Parliament says it wishes to be constructive, but at the same time highlight any concerns while in opposition. Labour have already informed the Government that there must be national standards for the safety of pupils and staff at school. Labour has also asked the Government for a clear understanding and a roadmap for coming out of lockdown, with the necessary precautions in place to avoid an increase in Covid-19 infections. Labour understands that the Government will need moments to review and pause the plans put in place; but, the public will need to know the direction of travel. In terms of education there needs to be plan that shows how all pupils and students can get back into learning, which is incredibly important for all concerned.
“Schools are controlled by different bodies such as trusts and local authorities and it is so important to have collective control over the reopening of schools to pupils and students, to make sure that the right decisions are taken at the local level. Social distancing will have a major impact on the way that schools operate, not just now; but, in the future. The Government must be clear in the way that education moves on, during a time when there is a Public Health crisis”, said Mick.
It’s ‘only a suggestion’ says County Labour Leader
County Labour Group leader Councillor Leigh Redman (Bridgwater South) supports the NEU position and says “Schools are due to be open to more pupils on Monday, and I have been keen to understand what staff and parents thought about the government suggestion. I use the word ‘suggestion’, because that is what it is, Schools do not need to open more than they already do and parents do not need to send their children. Government over the past week has been stepping back from their original statement, some Councils around the Country recognise the risk and have taken the decision not to open their schools wider on Monday. But here in Somerset we appear to have left the decision to head teachers and Governors, or more to the point, I feel that Somerset county council are hoping that most parents won’t send in their children, the age and design of most of our older schools will not allow for social distancing, our newer schools have more space, but class sizes will be limited.”