‘Too soon’ for pupils to return

Education bosses at Leeds City Council say they do not expect schools to re-open next month as it would be “impossible” to work to the Government’s guidelines.

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 3:33 pm
Coun Jonathan Pryor Picture Tony Johnson.

Last week the Government declared that nursery, reception, Year one and Year six can return to full-time school from June 1, joining the children of key workers.

North Yorkshire County Council is planning to stick to that timetable, but Leeds City Council and several other local authorities in West Yorkshire say they will go against the Government advice.

Coun Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council executive member for learning, skills, employment and equality, said: “We believe that it is important for children to resume their education so they can learn and interact with their peers. However, this needs to be done in such a way that we minimise the risks to pupils, staff and parents as much as possible. Due to a variety of factors, it would be impossible for all schools to operate to the Government’s timetable of opening reception, Year one and Year six from June 1. While some schools will begin to gradually expand their intake from this date, Leeds will not expect all our schools to open to all those pupils from day one.

“To decide what is feasible, we are asking schools to carry out an initial comprehensive risk assessment so that leaders can evaluate potential solutions on how they can safely and effectively accommodate eligible pupils. We want schools, in the first instance, to take a phased approach to how many pupils they take back and from when.”

Coun Pryor added: “Schools have different numbers of vulnerable and key worker children, different numbers of staff who will not be able to attend school in person because they or a family member are in a vulnerable category and therefore shielding, and different abilities to implement social distancing.

“We can expect therefore, that there will not be one city-wide model for the initial phased re-opening of schools.

“However, Leeds City Council will support schools to work towards gradually increasing pupil numbers at a pace their individual circumstances allow.”

He added that Government clarification was needed.

Coun Pryor added: “Schools must have guidance and flexibility around the appropriate levels of social distancing as each will have a different layout.

“Staff must have access to comprehensive and regular testing – linked into a local tracing programme – for themselves and pupils.

“The Government must give staff who are social distancing because they, or those they live with, are in vulnerable categories, guarantees that they can continue to work from home and not expect them to physically come into school.”

He said that the council supported the Local Government Association’s call for local authorities to be given the power to close schools were there is a Covid-19 outbreak.

“We are working in consultation with schools and the Department for Education to gain answers to our remaining questions.

“It is important to note that schools have been open throughout the past two months, providing education in person for vulnerable children and key workers’ children - in addition to providing education and pastoral care to those children at home. This has been a phenomenal task and we thank everyone involved.

“We understand this is a difficult time for parents and recognise the urgency to return children to education.

“This urgency should not overlook local level factors, nor should it be done until these points have been addressed.

“Staff and pupil safety must be at the heart of all decision making, and we should keep decisions under constant review.”

St James School, Wetherby, said in an online statement to parents on Tuesday that staff were still planning for how it might open up schools.

“The process of opening up will be slow and safe,” said the statement.

“Heads of school are working through a very helpful document produced by Leeds City Council – this provides lots of prompts to make sure our plans are comprehensive and robust. Once this is produced, our governors will scrutinise the plans.

“All this means that a dramatic re-opening on Monday 01 June isn’t realistic.

“It’s even more challenging because there remains a lot of uncertainty about the best course of action.

“The government updated its guidance for educational settings yesterday (frustratingly, they don’t indicate what or where the updates are), and this advice is due to be updated again.

“A separate government document presenting actions for schools was also updated yesterday. The introduction to this documents does make clear that schools re-opening is not definite.”

A Wetherby parent, who wished to remain annonymous, said: “My children are six and four.

“As things stand we intend to send our eldest back to Year 1 of Deighton Gates in June.

“It’s not an easy decision but we have to balance the impact of several months missed education at a critical time with the risk.

“He understands social distancing and, on balance, we think it’s the right choice both mentally and developmentally for our son.”

Parents of schools in Ebor Academy Trust, which runs Tadcaster Academy and Tockwith Primary, have been told parents in letters sent home on Tuesday that plans are to open their 24 schools to more children next month.

Gail Brown, Chief Executive of Ebor, said: “The health and safety of staff and pupils is a guiding principle in every decision we make.

“Our initial plans – subject to the government’s key criteria being met – are that most of our schools will be closed early in week commencing 1 June (other than for those priority children currently accessing schools) in order for all settings to be thoroughly organised, safe and ready for what will be a very new scenario.

“When places are provided for more children, these will be on a part-time basis.

“Due to children attending in small groups, all schools anticipate they are likely to be closed – other than for critical worker children, vulnerable children and children with educational health care plans – initially for up to a day a week in order to carry out ongoing preparatory work and a deep clean.

“Looking ahead, we will continue to prioritise, above all others, those priority children who are still coming to school.

“We are working to explore ways where we can, if conditions allow it, gradually and in a phased way reintroduce children to school, in our primaries first from early years classes, then Year 1 and Year 6.”