June 1 partial reopening of schools branded ‘unnecessary risk’ by Thanet councillor duo

Concerns raised by Councillors Candy Gregory and Pauline Farrance

The decision to reopen schools to some pupils on June 1 has been branded “an unnecessary risk” by a teacher and a registered nurse in Thanet.

Candy Gregory and Pauline Farrance, who are both Labour district councillors, said: “This seemingly arbitrary date set by the government to take back reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils poses an unnecessary risk to teachers, pupils and the wider community.”

Candy Gregory, who has been a registered nurse for over 40 years, and Pauline Farrance, whose teaching career spans nearly 40 years in a range of educational settings, both support the reservations expressed by the National Education Union (NEU) and the British Medical Association about the phased reopening.

The proposal was confirmed as “still being on track”  by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on May 24.

Primary schools will be open for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, while nurseries and other early years providers will begin welcoming back children of all ages.

Secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges will also provide face-to-face contact for Year 10, Year 12 and equivalent 16-19 further education students to help them prepare for exams next year. It is expected this will begin from June 15, with around a quarter of these secondary students in at any point.

A final decision will be made tomorrow (May 28) based on meeting the government’s five tests of:

  • Protect the NHS’s ability to cope. We must be confident that we are able to provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment right across the UK
  • See a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from COVID-19 so we are confident that we have moved beyond the peak
  • Reliable data from SAGE showing that the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
  • Be confident that the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and PPE, are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand
  • Be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS

Measures to protect children and staff will include:

  • reducing the size of classes and keeping children in small groups without mixing with others
  • staggered break and lunch times, as well as drop offs and pickups
  • increasing the frequency of cleaning, reducing the used of shared items and utilising outdoor space
  • All children and staff, and their families, will also have access to testing if they display symptoms.
  • Children will also be encouraged not to travel on public transport where possible, in line with the advice to the wider population.

However, Cllrs Farrance and Gregory say recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and the National Education Union should be followed.

The NEU has stated its own five tests before schools reopen as:

Test 1 : The new case count must be much lower than it is now, with a sustained downward trend and confidence that new cases are known and counted promptly. And the Government must have extensive arrangements for testing and contact tracing to keep it that way.

Test 2 : The Government must have a national plan including parameters for both appropriate physical distancing and levels of social mixing in schools, as well as for appropriate PPE, which will be locally negotiated at school-by-school and local authority level.

Test 3 : Comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff to ensure schools and colleges don’t become hot spots for Covid-19.

Test 4 : Protocols to be put in place to test a whole school or college when a case occurs and for isolation to be strictly followed.

Test 5 : Vulnerable staff, and staff who live with vulnerable people, must work from home, fulfilling their professional duties to the extent that is possible. Plans must be specifically address the protection of vulnerable parents, grandparents and carers.

Delay to reduce risk?

Sir David King, the former government adviser who chairs the “Independent Sage” group of scientists, has said that “by going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.”

An interim report from Sage suggests delaying the reopening of schools until June 15 “approximately halves the risk to children”, and that delaying until September would be “less risky still”.

Cllr Gregory said: “We have heard from scientists independent of the government that now is not the time to bring youngsters into a closed and uncontrollable environment during an on-going pandemic.

“Small children have no concept of social distancing or hygiene measures. There is a huge risk that they will unknowingly spread any virus particles amongst their peer group, on to teaching staff and on to the community.

“Maybe the Prime Minister isn’t aware of how crowded most state schools are. The teacher pupil ratio in a state school is 1:33 while the school he would have attended would have been more like 1:8!

“Most of all there has to be comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff to ensure our schools and other educational establishments don’t become hot spots for Covid-19.”
The councillors support the SAGE call for a localised approach to easing lockdown rather than a blanket one for the whole country. They say the situation should be monitored in each area, and an assessment of safety be made at local level.

Cllr Farrance said: “Schools have been open during the pandemic for the children of key workers and those more vulnerable, so teachers have shown themselves ready to work to help fight this crisis. It’s a question of the degree of risk and whether it’s really sensible to take it.

“An assessment of the safety of Thanet schools should take into account the risk posed by the multiple factors of deprivation here. So Thanet would be at greater risk than other parts of Kent and other parts of the country. It is critical we consider these issues before bringing more pupils back into schools.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is the education and welfare of all children and young people across the country. That is why we want to start a phased wider opening of nurseries, school and colleges is informed by the best possible scientific and medical advice.

“We will continue to work with the sector to support them to prepare for wider opening and ensure all children and young people can continue to receive the best care, education and training possible.”

Measures are being put in place in Thanet schools.

Newington’s plan includes:

  • Children will be taught in classes of no more than 15, with a teacher and teaching assistant. Who staff members are will depend on availability
  • Children in class will be taught in isolation throughout the day and will not meet adults or children from other classes
  • Children will be taught about social distancing, although the younger the child the less likely they are to adhere to it
  • All children and adults will be temperature checked at the start of each day. Any child showing symptoms will be sent home and cannot return until they have been tested for the virus.
  • No visitors to the school unless invited by the leadership team
  • Lunch provided for every child to be eaten in class, or the dining hall or outside
  • Clear routines and guidelines for entering and leaving school
  • No out of hours clubs
  • Key worker children will continue to be accommodated

Plans for St George’s CofE, Broadstairs, include:

  • There will be no rapid move to meet all the Government targets for return over the coming weeks and decisions will be based on the school’s individual situation.
    • St George’s will only be starting with Year R at a time when Mr Mirams feels it is right to do so.
    • It will be impossible to social distance Year R and the day will be clearly staggered and shorter.
    • Arrival and departure from the site will be staggered with a shorter school day.
    • There will be no more than 10 per class and there will only be two Year R classrooms.
    • Children will be expected to wear school uniform and bring a packed lunch.
    • All break times will be staggered but social distancing will not be possible with 4-5 year olds.
    • The school will have to review Key Worker and vulnerable children provision once capacity increases as it is unlikely that they can accommodate large numbers.
    • The school will wait to see if they can safely provide provision for Year R before increasing to other years.
    • One to one support will not be possible and specialist staff will be limited.
    • In regard to Secondary, the school will be looking at Year 10 plans for the coming term but it is unlikely that they will have them in at present.

Parents who do not send their children back to school on June 1 will not be sanctioned.

Two Thanet schools outline initial proposals for June partial reopening and keeping pupils and staff safe

24 Comments

  1. A teacher …who clearly doesn’t want to do the work she’s paid for .Ho Hum.A member of the Labour Party too , who would just oppose for oppositions sake . ho hum. I don’t think these two deserve to be taken much notice of.

    • Ho hum. Know both of these ladies and the comments will have nothing to do with the political leaning but commonsense.

    • There’s something about Kevin! Another know nothing numpty Daily Mail reader! From what I understand most sensible parents will NOT send their child back to a school that will practice possibly lethal social distancing in class! How will it work? It won’t, and teachers know this, and could possibly be very dangerous! Do you have a young child Kevin? Would you consider placing it in a possibly lethal situation? If you would then I think you should consider getting help!

  2. The government is desperate to get people back to work. Their idea of “following the science” is based on this, not on public welfare.

    Teachers have not stopped teaching just because the schools are closed to most children. Some are still going into schools, many are doing online teaching.

    But yes, a registered nurse and an experienced teacher- what would they know about health matters, teaching or young children’s behaviour?

  3. I’m shocked!
    Two Labour councillors opposing the opening of schools. Who would have thought it.
    The next minute you’ll be telling us how deprived the area is.
    A lot of children are safer at school than at home and you are preventing their education.

    • Agree, for some children being kept at home is a prison sentence. They will not be learning (apart from what abuse and neglect feels like on a daily basis). Thanet has a lot of deprivation and it is extremely important that these kids are given a fighting chance in life. The only way to do that is education and safety, for many that means school. Sad but true.

  4. The pandemic isn’t over! I’m glad our councillors are speaking out about what will protect the public. If the government consulted nurses and teachers more we might not have the second worst death toll in the world.

  5. R = between 0.7 and 1. That means 10 infected people could potentially infect between 7 and 10 other people. The transmission rate is still too high to even think of reopening schools. And there have been incidences of covid-related Kawasaki Disease in children. Well done both of these councillors for speaking out.

    • Why not just announce that the summer holidays have now started and plan to start the autumn term much earlier, in August ,say. That gives time to ,hopefully, improve the situation.
      I agree that the only reason for the pressure to open schools is to force parents back to work while the teachers act as unofficial child minders. They can hardly “teach” in the strange circumstances being proposed in the actual classrooms.
      Why not follow the decision of the private schools and stay shut until September?
      It is telling that, when the plan is to get the economy going, it’s the ordinary parents who have to send their children out to school, not the actual owners of the businesses. The owners don’t work to keep the economy going. You do!

  6. Judging by the influx of people coming to Thanet over the last weekend to enjoy our coastline – perhaps from London, it would not be surprising if locally our Covid-19 infection rate increases. This in addition to the smouldering problems in residential communities would I suggest, on a local basis, insist that we keep the spread of Covid-19 under firm control. Stay at home, is still highly relevant and maintaining social distancing which some people seem to think no longer applies. I would not send my child back to school until I was reassured that a coherent plan was instituted to protect all who would occupy schools .

  7. It’s a risk not worth taking sending children back to school. It is impossible to have really good hygiene and social distancing with very young children. I believe the government want herd immunity and parents back to work and never mind the few casualties of that decision. If even a small number of children get ill and one ends up in icu with Kawasaki disease then in my option that is one too many. Education can be caught up on later, once lives are lost there’s no going back. Yes I get that key workers children need to access schools of course and possibly some children who have heavy social services intervention may be better off at school but for the majority they will be safer having a long summer holiday then looking at it again. Also for young children school is so much about playing with toys, reading books, being in a playground with all of their friends, things won’t be the same and their experience of school will be strange and unfamiliar. When a child needs in reception or nursery needs comforting how can teaching staff successfully practise social distancing? It’s not fair in teachers or children to be going back.

  8. Children should not be sent to school, until Government are ALL back on their Benches in Parliament. Fair’s fair!
    My thoughts only….

  9. Of course the councillors are spot on .
    It is far better to follow the scientifically informed recommendations of Sage and the NEU than this government which is too lazy to look properly at this issue.
    This is yet another issue requiring input from our Thanet MPs – but also from the head of TDC

    • I expect teachers do want to go to the beach and meet their friends, but I also expect that most of them, like many if not most of the rest of us, will not do so unless the situation improves considerably. I certainly shan’t be going to the beach on days when it is too crowded for safety.

    • I expect we all want to do that. I certainly do. But I’ll wait (as will all sensible and public spirited people) until it’s safe to do so.
      I expect Derek would like to go to the beach to meet friends, too, but I fear that’s not possible.

      • Safer for kids to be in school than running all over the seafront.by the way im still in lockdown not been out for ten weeks.

  10. Amazing the differences you see in the capacity to have a “can do “ attitiude, those who’ll get paid no matter what they do generally find reasons why things aren’t possible , whilst those that need to get things done to earn a living have a more positive mindset.

    • Thank goodness teachers and nurses (and posties and bin men and women and courier drivers and care home workers and bus drivers and … and …) have a “Mexican” attitude, because we’d be in a right pickle if they didn’t.
      The government’s mantra has been and still is “stay at home”. Some people (including, but not limited to those mentioned above) have no option other than to go out.
      Children do *not* need to go back to school yet. In due course, when the “R” number is far lower, they can. Provision can be made to help the children catch up (volunteers from the community could help, certainly with Key Stage 2). But if the children and teachers are dead with C19 or gravely ill with Kawasaki then a whole generation is lost.
      I’m pretty sure this indecent haste to get children back to school has little to do with health, and all to do with economics.
      If it were driven by science then the date chosen for return would be determined by the “R” number in a particular area. For example, it might be ok for children in rural Norfolk to return, but not those in Tower Hamlets.

  11. Surprised at the amount of anti teachers on here , still I guess these anti teachers people believe in boris and his side kick Cummings , do as I say not do as I do Cummings.

    This is being handled badly, some contact sport is restarting yet we cant go for a cuppa round our mums who has been in her little 5th floor flat for about 10 weeks now on her own. But football can restart but it’s only safe for the premier league ! It’s not safe for the woman’s game, or cricket etc.

    The government really lost the plot and it’s all about money now get every back to work now asap, safe or not.

  12. England has a very weak please if you possibly could, if it’s not too much bother quarantine for people coming into this country but we have the highest daily infection rates in Europe. There are still a minimum of 8000 a people a day catching COVID in this country. The rest of Europe should be more worried about our infection rate and they should be quarantining English citizens.

    I agree that The economy does need to get moving again but the Government has always said we are 4 weeks behind Europe but now we are opening up the country at the same speed as European nations who have the infection under control ?

    The second spike in the UKs infection rate will be entirely self inflicted.

  13. The effect on mental health and general well-being of children not returning to school is huge in my opinion. This fear and political driven agenda doesn’t seem to care about this. When did we become so scared as as a nation? Why don’t we look at death rates year in year out analytically and discuss death as a whole as well. We would gain more of a sense of perspective.

Comments are closed.