By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Hundreds of schools across the county welcomed back 21,000 students – around 16% of the pre-Covid total – last week as coronavirus lockdown restrictions continue to be eased, including a phased return of Year Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 just over two weeks ago.
More than 487 schools have returned of the 600 state institutions run by the local education authority, Kent County Council (KCC).
KCC’s corporate director for education, Matt Dunkley, described the Covid crisis as an “unprecedented” pressure for the schools sector.
Cllr Richard Long, KCC’s cabinet member for education, added: “Like all services, offices at KCC education have faced major and fast moving challenges to ensure work continues and manage massive changes at schools.”
Their comments came during a KCC education briefing where several councillors discussed the impact of coronavirus on school numbers.
Under the latest figures, around 21,383 Kent pupils were back in primary school classrooms eight days ago, around 27% are in Reception, 21% Year 1 and 32% in Year 6.
This represents just 16% of the total number of pupils who attended Kent primary schools in January, equating to just over 126,000 youngsters.
At the start of the lockdown in March just 2,500 people attended Kent schools daily, with Boris Johnson’s Government only allowing the children of key workers, such as NHS staff, as well as youngsters with special needs to attend.
However, with the easing of the lockdown restrictions on June 1 to allow a gradual phased return of three primary school year groups, only an extra 7,500 pupils in the county took up the offer amid continued concerns from families around safety for their children in schools from Covid-19.
KCC’s education committee was told that this meant around 10,000 Kent youngsters were attending schools on June 1, which had grown to daily numbers of 16,000 by the end of the week (Friday, June 5) as parental confidence grew.
Around 809 key worker children attended alongside 513 youngsters with learning difficulties at special schools.
Cllr Long added: “The admissions team have quietly and without fuss ensured that nearly 18,000 children, the biggest cohort in four years, had an offer of primary school place for September.
“With over 95% receiving one of their preferred schools. All this has been done while staff have been working in lockdown conditions.”
Other parts of Kent’s children’s sector continue to unlock as the UK enters a new phase of the public health emergency.
More than 500 childminders have now reopened while 441 nurseries offered support to nearly 10,000 pupils last week, up 1,200 from the week before, it has been revealed.