Wolverhampton Council writes to Secretary of State in plea to keep schools closed amid fears new strain is in city

Leaders in Wolverhampton have raised 'serious concerns' about schools returning tomorrow amid fears the new highly contagious variant of the virus could now be circulating in the city.

Wolverhampton Council says it is urging the Government to support a move to online learning after cases of coronavirus in Wolverhampton have continued to rise in recent days.

The authority has now written to the Secretary of State for Education to express its concerns, given Wolverhampton is seeing 'a very high positive test rate of 23 per cent - similar to many areas of London and the South East', says its leader Councillor Ian Brookfield.

On Friday, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that all London primary schools will remain shut next week as the capital battles with high levels of coronavirus infections.

Most other primary schools in England are expected to still open tomorrow while secondary schools will reopen on a staggered basis, with exam year pupils returning on January 11 and others returning a week later.

But The National Education Union (NEU), which represents the majority of teachers, has called for all English primary schools to move online and advised its members it is not safe to return to classrooms on Monday.

This view has now been echoed by the leader of Wolverhampton Council, Councillor Ian Brookfield.

“As always, the safety of our pupils, teachers and school staff is paramount," he said.

“Unfortunately, the infection rate in Wolverhampton now stands at 530 people per 100,000 – the highest in the region.

"We are also seeing a very high positive test rate of 23 per cent - similar to many areas of London and the South East.

“As a result of this, based purely on the latest epidemiology and public health advice, we have had no choice but to escalate matters and have written to the Secretary of State for Education to express our concerns.

“We have serious concerns about schools reopening safely and are seeking Government support on all primary, nursery and special schools in Wolverhampton moving to remote learning next week, other than for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

“As we await a formal response, we will continue to focus on testing arrangements for school staff and support schools in updating their risk assessments and operation plans.

“Our schools have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and we thank them for continued dedication to supporting education, wellbeing and safety of pupils and staff.”

Fears of what a return to school tomorrow could mean have also been voiced by Victoria Turner, who has been a primary school teacher in Halesowen for the nearly eight years.

The mother-of-one said that while schools are doing 'everything they can', ' there are just too many variables you can't control' with young pupils.

Tough

Miss Turner also said she felt testing children in schools could affect their mental health.

Speaking about whether schools should reopen next week, she said: "It is a tough one. Personally, I feel staff and head teachers have to be flexible and make the choices that are best for them and individuals.

"While schools are doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible for staff, children, their families and the community, with younger children there are just too many variables you can't control.

"So many children are asymptomatic and some of the smallest children, teachers can keep reminding them to keep two metres apart but you just can't control it all the time.

"I don't feel like doing daily testing in schools is a good substitute for isolation, and it may make cases worse.

"Personally, I'm not convinced. I'm in Key Stage One and I don't think testing them every day is fair on their mental health, I wouldn't let it be done to my own young children.

"Children have bounced back brilliantly, you wouldn't know that they have lost six months of school.

"They still come in and enjoy it, this is a testament to our staff and how brilliant they are.

"If we start pushing testing for children could push them over the edge

"We're really lucky we haven't had a single case at my school yet. The staff, community and parents have all worked together to make it as safe as possible for our children, which is our main priority.

"All of the parents are incredibly supportive they do everything we have asked without questioning it.

"Whilst you see a lot of teacher bashing on social media, a lot of parents have our backs."

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