Schools closed in March amid the coronavirus outbreak with parents being left to home educate their children.
Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced primary schools could reopen from June 1.
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The Prime Minister revealed the government’s three-step plan to begin easing lockdown restrictions which included reopening schools for years one to six with reduced pupil numbers and social distancing measures in place.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said the scientific evidence indicates it is safe for more children to return to school from June 1 – but teachers, head teachers, MPs, unions and councillors have expressed concerns about the scientific evidence behind the decision to reopen primary schools and if it’s safe to do so without risking a second wave of coronavirus cases.
Liverpool City Council said they will ‘resist’ the call to reopen schools on June 1 and pupils should not go back to school before June 15.
Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) councillor, Stuart Carroll (Conservative: Boyn Hill), cabinet member for adult social services, children’s service, health and mental health, revealed he sent a letter to Gavin Williamson last Thursday pushing the government to publish and share the scientific evidence behind the recent guidance to the reopening of schools as early as June 1.
What does the letter to the education secretary entail?
In the letter, he writes: “I would encourage you as a matter of urgency to share that evidence so the teachers and parents can be reassured that what we are asking of the sector is safe and proportionate for all involved. The clearly related topic is about the use, or not, of PPE in a school setting.
“Once again I urge you to share the scientific evidence about the effectiveness of PPE to further reassure the sector. “
Cllr Carroll said: “It is important to see children return to school as soon as it’s possible and safe. I am acutely aware of the potential mental and emotional health impacts on children by not being in school because school is an important setting for social interaction and social learning.
“I think the key here is any opening of schools is based on government guidance and in the letter, I pushed very hard for additional scientific rational to be published to understand more of the rational.”
How will RBWM ensure the safety of children and teachers going back to school?
Teachers and head teachers have expressed concerns over the health of staff and children as well the preparedness of schools reopening with social distancing implemented.
Councillor Stuart Carroll acknowledged these concerns and said the health of children and education staff is top priority.
He said: “What we have been doing as a borough is working with every school to assistance them with risk assessments to ensure they can safely open and that they can safely implement the guidance as required.
“Each school is going to be unique and will have to work through its own circumstances and, of course, we are assisting with that by providing help and expertise – but if schools can open in accordance with the guidance and do it safely then it’s in the interest of children to return to school.”
What has RBWM done behind the scenes to ensure education could continue?
Since the school closures, lessons have continued online where councillor Carroll said children who need technological support for their learning to continue have been identified and supplied laptops and other necessary equipment.
Cllr Carroll said: “It’s not just about equipment – it’s also making sure we support schools to be able to deliver virtual lessons and support parents as needed to help provide some that education at home.”
The council has been providing lunch vouchers to parents each week for those children who get free school meals.
Does RBWM have sufficient numbers of teachers?
“We are assessing this with every school which looks like that the vast majority – if not – all schools can staff accordingly and do have that availability of staff,” said councillor Carroll.
“But of course, this is will be reviewed on a day to day basis because if someone were to start showing symptoms or feeling unwell then they will need to start to self-isolate and we will work with the school and look at what is possible going forward.”
Will teachers be supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE)?
In the letter, education secretary Gavin Williamson, councillor Carroll asked for clarifications if PPE is advised to be used and additional stockpiling if PPE is needed.
Cllr Carroll believes RBWM’s current stockpile is ‘reasonably robust’ and can facilitate teachers – but thinks it’s not in the best interest of children to see their teachers in full PPE kit.
He said: “I think the key here is the social distancing requirements hence why the risk assessments is so important for every school, making sure there are hand sanitizers and there is appropriate and accessible points where people can wash hands.”
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What about transition days for children to meet their new class and teachers?
One parent raised concerns to the Observer over transition days for year four’s being cancelled and asked if they will get a chance to see their new schools before September.
Councillor Stuart Carroll, lead member for children’s services, said: “We are going to be sending letters to every school, every head teacher and every parent which will come from myself and the director of children services, Kevin McDaniel, which explains in a bit more detail what we’re seeking to do in terms of being prepared for June 1.
“In terms of middle schools, we are liaising with those schools as to what can be done in the circumstances and as for closure – which I understand the importance for a child moving around the educational system – in principle I see no reason why that can’t be facilitated.
“It’s difficult to know precisely where this virus will be in August and where the government guidance is going to be – but what I certainly can say is that we will do everything we possibly can to enable and facilitate that in line with government guidance and public health protocol.”
Cllr Carroll urged parents, teachers or headteachers to contact him if they have any concerns about the reopening of schools.
He added: “I would like to say a big thank you to all the staff and teachers in the education system locally for working with us on this.
“I know it’s an extremely challenging time and I will continue to represent on this issue vigorously to get more clarity from central government to ensure we can do this in the safest possible way.”