Schools will reopen when it is ‘safe for all’

Unions believe schools have made the right decision by delaying reopening.

Unions believe schools have made the right decision by delaying reopening. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Children’s wellbeing must and will be at the heart of any decisions made to reopen schools, says a Weston headteacher.

The Government is keen for reception, year one and year six pupils to return to school in June along

The Government is keen for reception, year one and year six pupils to return to school in June along with nursery and preschool children. - Credit: Archant

The prime minister announced primary schools could reopen to some year groups from June 1, beginning with nurseries and preschools, reception, year one and year six, if infection rates and the government’s other tests allow.

Evidence so far suggests children are less vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus, but experts are unsure how significant a role they play in transmitting it.

Education leaders across North Somerset have been working with staff to ensure schools can reopen safely.

Adam Matthews, chief executive of the Extend Learning Academies Network (ELAN), said: “This should only be when the government says it is appropriate and we are confident it is safe.

Secondary schools are likely to remain closed until September.

Secondary schools are likely to remain closed until September. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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“As with everything we do, children’s wellbeing is the heart of everything and staff safety a priority.

“In order to reopen, school has to be safe for pupils and teachers. We are currently working with our staff and schools to ensure this is the case.”

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The ELAN multi academy trust includes Bournville, Oldmixon, Locking, Mead Vale, Mendip Green, Milton Park, Walliscote and Windwhistle primary schools.

The DfE guidance suggests classes will be split into groups of no more than 15 and those pupils will be in their own ‘bubble’ with a designated member of staff.

Attendance by primary school pupils will be voluntary and schools are reporting varied levels of interest from the parents they have contacted.

Mr Matthews added: “We are currently carrying out risk assessments and site surveys to determine the best approaches to take.

“Each school will have to plan their approach to meet the specific needs of their site including classroom area, number of available rooms, corridor lay-out, et cetera.

“This, I believe, will necessitate school start times and finish times to be staggered to ensure safe movement about the site for all.”

Mr Matthews said staff have been ‘amazing’ during lockdown and he also praised parents for supporting children at home.

He added: “Every school has provided places for key worker children every day, including bank holidays and weekends since lockdown began, and teachers have been setting tasks for and communicating with those children who are learning at home.

“However, I know that they are all looking forward to seeing their classes again. We will be working together to make sure that any wider opening is safe for all.”

Secondary schools are likely to remain closed until September but staff will also be asked to provide some face-to-face support for pupils in year 10 and year 12 to supplement their remote education.

North Somerset Council is supporting all school leaders with their work on arrangements to enable schools to open safely, and recognises the concerns about ensuring strict social distancing measures, particularly with younger and more vulnerable children.

Cllr Catherine Gibbons, North Somerset Council’s executive member for children’s services and lifelong learning said: “Heads and teachers are best placed to know whether they can safely open their school and how many children they can keep safe and they also know their local communities.

“This Government announcement won’t be correct for every school or every child. We will treat these decisions on their merits and show trust in our school leaders.

“There are some schools in which the safety guidelines can be met, and we will support those that can open from June 1. But we also know that many will not be able to achieve that, and we support schools in their decision making.

“We will not issue fines to those parents who choose to keep their child at home during this term.

“We also support calls by the Local Government Association and teaching unions that all the relevant scientific advice on child transmission should be published immediately so that head teachers and families can make informed decisions.

“It will be important for heads to take time to undertake full risk assessments and only open to more children when it is safe to do so.

“And of course we know that parents and carers know their children best and we support them in making the right decisions – whether to send their children to school or not – according to their own circumstances and the approach taken by their school.”

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