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Plans to reopen Staffordshire schools spark concerns

By Kerry Ashdown | Stone | Education | Published:

Plans to reopen schools to some pupils next week have sparked concerns from parents about children’s health – and a community leader has said that the move is not suitable for all.

The Government announced earlier this month that primary schools in England could begin welcoming back pupils in nursery, reception, year one and year six classes.

Some councils in England have spoken out against the move, fearing it would put teachers and pupils at risk of catching Covid-19.

But Staffordshire County Council is working with primary schools to allow them to reopen safely to pupils able to return to class. Support being provided by the local authority includes packs of personal protective equipment, as well as advice and guidance on social distancing.

The move has not been welcomed by all however.

In some areas of Staffordshire, including Stone and Penkridge, there is a three tier system of first, middle and high schools, rather than the primary and secondary school system.

Stone councillor Jill Hood has said that it does not make sense to send year six pupils back to school yet if they are not moving from primary to secondary school in the coming months – and it is a “huge mistake” to send the youngest children back at this stage.

She has written to Staffordshire County Council and Stone MP Sir Bill Cash to call for a rethink.

She said: “When the Government announced the return of schools on June 1 for reception and years 1 and 6, I was contacted by teachers, parents and carers, all very concerned about what the consequences could and would be for themselves and the children regarding Covid-19.

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“In Stone we have a middle school system with pupils transitioning to our High School in to year nine, at 13 years old. So the point of returning children in year 6 in Stone does not make sense for the reasons given by the government.

"Reception and year 1 children – four and five year olds – are the least likely to be able to cope with ‘safe’ social distancing. Even though it has been suggested that there will be no more than 15 children per class this will not stop natural behaviour of the children to huddle together, as it gives them a strong feeling of security.

“I fear that when they are told they must not go close to their friends or teachers, either in the classroom or playground, that this will affect their emotional and mental health.

“Another serious concern raised from parents and teachers is for our SEND children with their special needs. These children rely on a regular routine with familiar faces and surroundings which from all accounts will not be able to be provided.

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“For example, autistic children need a strict continuing routine repeating the same pattern every day they’re in school. Not providing their familiar routine will bring chaos into their lives, which many will not cope with, and it will destroy a deserved built-up trust with parents, pupils and teaching staff – and could take a very long time to get back to a coping mechanism for them all.

“I ask you to be the voice of our parents, carers and school staff to our government, to say it is a huge mistake to ask our youngest children to return to school on June 1. There should be decisions made with regional differences taken into account and not one size fits all.

“We need information used on how the virus infection rates are affecting our areas and not basing the numbers – and therefore decisions – taken for our schools on London’s figures where, the infection rate is dropping.

"I’m appealing to you to act on behalf of our children, the nation’s most precious resource, our future workers and parents. Please ask the Government to reconsider asking our children to return to school.

“There are only five weeks left to the end of the school year. Please do not use our children as Guinea pigs.”

Staffordshire County Council has said that schools will decide individually on when to re-open, and will inform parents. They will also determine how many pupils can be accommodated safely in each classroom, what school years can return with appropriate social distancing and how the start and end of the school day will be staggered.

County Councillor Philip White, cabinet member for learning and employability said: “Our schools have been doing a fantastic job throughout this pandemic.

“Most of them have remained open to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers, and teachers have also been working hard to provide the best education possible for children at home. We have been in regular contact to ensure they are kept up to date and have everything they need to operate safely.

“Schools know what is best for their staff and pupils, so it is up to each individual school to make the decision about when and how they can open. Our health and safety teams are helping them to make those decisions by giving advice on social distancing measures, and we are also providing every school with a pack of personal protective equipment should someone fall ill.

“Our understanding is that the majority of schools will be open in some way, and will be talking to their parents about what will be happening over the coming days. We will continue to support them as much as possible to open in a way that ensures the safety of both pupils and staff.”

Kerry Ashdown

By Kerry Ashdown

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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