Notts council says school leaders are “best placed” to decide when it's safe for kids to go back to classes
Nottinghamshire County Council says it is working with schools to ensure there is a ‘joined-up’ when deciding whether it is safe to reopen to more pupils next month.
The authority is working with schools in Mansfield, and across the county, to develop plans to get children in Reception, Year 1 and 6 - as well as Years 10 and 12 – back to school from June 1.
Schools leaders are currently undertaking risk assessments, according to the council, and each will have their own circumstances which will determine how is best to reopen.
The council said school leaders are “best placed” to make judgements and will only open when safe to do so.
Coun Philip Owen, chairman of Nottinghamshire County Council’s children and young people’s committee said: “I would like to recognise the sterling work of our headteachers and all school staff in keeping our schools open for over 3,000 children of keyworkers and vulnerable children, while also continuing to provide a home learning offer to over 123,000 students.
“I’m also grateful to parents and carers for encouraging and supporting their children to continue with their studies while they’ve been at home.
“The County Council will continue to work with Nottinghamshire schools and academies to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to any phased return-to-school plans as far as possible.”
The Department for Education (DfE) recently announced that some year groups in England may be able to return to school provided that the government's five key tests are met.
Mr Owen added: “The intention is that, if and when it is safe to do so and if the government’s conditions are met, schools should extend their offer to welcome specific year groups back from no earlier than 1st June.
“Headteachers and school leaders are best placed to make a judgement about what this means for their schools, as they know their buildings, staff, families and children best. They are currently undertaking risk assessments to develop a plan that is manageable, practical and safe for pupils, their families and staff.
“Only then will they consider opening their schools to a wider group of children. This means that each school plan will be unique to that setting and will change over time. All secondary schools and some primaries in Mansfield are academies, independent of the Local Authority and they will be working with their Trusts to develop their own plans.
“The Director of Children’s Services has also written to parents to explain what the County Council is doing to support them, their children and our schools in this fast-moving situation. The wellbeing of their children is at the very centre of the assessment and planning process.”
Representatives from teaching unions’ have met the government's scientific and medical advisers to express concerns about the planned phased reopening.
The National Education Union, which represents school teachers, further education lecturers, education support staff and teaching assistants, has set out five tests, with support from The British Medical Association, which they say need to be met for schools to open safely.
These include having much lower numbers of Covid-19 cases, a national plan for social distancing, and protection for vulnerable school staff.
Rob Illingworth, joint secretary of the Nottinghamshire NEU, said that the current guidance which states there can only be up to 15 children in a class would make social distancing “impossible given the dimensions of school buildings”.
He said: “This will be more challenging for infant schools who will be expecting all except one year group to potentially return. How this can be achieved within these buildings (with half class sizes) we do not know, as there are very few schools with the spare classroom capacity needed to achieve this.
“Additionally with early years children and year 1, we are concerned about the impact on these children's wellbeing of the removal of pretty much everything except desks and the expectation on these children to work in spaces more appropriate for children who are much older.
“It seems like this part of the plan has had little input from specialists in early years education, who would have explained the issues with this part of the plan. Also for younger children social distancing will be much tougher to achieve and as a parent of a five-year-old, my son will certainly not be returning at this time for the reasons I have stated above.
Mr Illingworth described the requirements of the school risk assessments as a “logistical nightmare” as every aspect – such as entry to school, cleaning uniform between sessions, and using equipment – will have to be assessed.
“I think this is both unfair on school leaders and given the time frame concerning for members,” he said. “The government gave only two working weeks to implement all of this and that time frame is adding additional concerns for us as representatives of school staff.”