By Kathy Bailes with additional reporting from Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A Thanet headteacher has written to parents to say he will not issue sanctions if pupils stay at home rather than returning to school in June.
Adam Mirams, head of St George’s in Broadstairs, says the decision will rest with parents to decide where they feel their child is safest.
This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the phased return of primary school pupils in Reception and Years One and Six from June 1 as part of a covid recovery roadmap.
In a letter to parents Mr Mirams said: “If your child is in a year group that can return to school I would like to emphasise my stance as the headteacher of the school.
“The decision over your child returning in any capacity is yours as parents. As a parent I understand your concerns and I will not be making a huge issue if you decide the safest place for your child is at home even after June 1.
“I will not be issuing any sanction for this and will not change this expectation until the new academic year. The decision is yours alone. This may appear strange coming from a headteacher but as I have said all along all I wish for is the return of a healthy and fit community.”
Like others across the county Mr Mirams said he was: “awaiting clarification on exactly how a school is able to social distance young children who are most of need of close interaction.”
He said: “In reality it is unlikely that the school will look anything like normal for the rest of the academic year while we try and implement what we can.
“In essence everyone needs to realise that social distancing in school is I believe a very difficult ask of staff and children, alongside the importance of protecting all from the continued threat of the infection. These will be things that we will do our best to achieve but in all honesty will find hard to facilitate.”
Mr Mirams also told parents the school would be a very different place if pupils do return in June.
He is reviewing staff availability in light of the new arrangements but added: “I need to emphasise that it is unlikely that most children who return will have their normal teacher or TA at both schools as we try and rotate staffing and make use of our resources effectively. Staffing will be one of our greatest challenges alongside safety and the timetable.”
That timetable is likely to be limited and focused in certain areas as the school, as yet, has no clarity on the timing of the day or even how many days a week pupils may be in.
He also raised the issue of travel and said he had ‘no answer’ to how pupils would get to school considering the government advice not to use public transport.
The school will continue to pay out Free School Meal Vouchers up until the Summer break to those that are eligible.
Concerns across Kent
More than 40 Kent headteachers have raised concerns with the chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers, Alan Brookes, in the last 48 hours. They want assurances around the safety of staff, parents and children before reopening school gates.
Kent County Council’s education director says “challenges” lie ahead for the planned reopening of schools as the coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease this week.
Matt Dunkley, KCC’s corporate director for children, young people and education, said: “My colleagues and I understand this change will present some challenges for headteachers and their staff and we will continue to work closely with schools and support them during this period of transition.”
He added: “Our priority will be to ensure all children, young people and staff in Kent schools can learn and work in a safe environment and we will do everything necessary to ensure this is achieved.”
Government guidance says a return to school would mean class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils and desks being spaced as far apart as possible. It is suggested that secondary school years 10 and 12 could return before the end of the summer.
Mr Dunkley said: “We still await more details from Government on how this will be implemented across England.”