By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent County Council’s (KCC) education department has hailed the return to school for all pupils as “successful” despite a lengthy list of problems.
Complaints have been made to KCC and Kent headteachers about families failing to quarantine after returning from holidays abroad and a lack of social distancing outside schools.
Hundreds of students have also been reliant on trains to travel to school, while the Government’s track and trace system has been described as “shambolic” by one Kent headteacher, with some parents refusing to “engage” with the service.
Alan Brookes, the chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers, said: “The whole school return is in danger of coming apart because of a lack of available tests.”
A report has been published by KCC education bosses to County Hall’s 10-person cabinet to highlight several key issues identified since the beginning of this year’s autumn term.
On testing, Mr Brookes said the school that he heads in Sittingbourne has received just 10 Covid home test kits from the Government to share out amongst 1,450 pupils and staff members at Fulston Manor.
.A “one-off” delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) containing face masks, aprons and hand sanitiser has been provided, according to the KCC report.
Dozens of headteachers across the county have lobbied several Government departments and MPs to cover the extra Covid health and safety costs.
Mr Brookes said: “The headteachers have gone above and beyond their duty to do what they can to get this right, but are being hobbled by a lack of testing, which is outside of the control of schools.”
Hundreds of children were sent home from schools in Sittingbourne last week and earlier today a whole year group at an Aylesford primary school was told to self isolate until next week after a child tested positive for coronavirus.
However, Mr Brookes said it was “inevitable” there would be Covid outbreaks. He added: “The thing we will be concerned about is transmission within schools but any cases that have occurred so far have been contracted outside the school.”
On a positive note, Mr Brookes said that many teachers have been pleasantly “surprised” by the high numbers of pupils going to school, with around 357 of Kent’s 600 schools opening with an average of 91% attendance.
At some Kent schools, several different entrances have been provided for different year groups while counselling will also be offered for pupils aged from 10 to 16 recovering from the mental stresses of lockdown.
Mr Brookes described the logistics of mental health support as a “big challenge” while KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) said he “saluted” staff for the stamina they have shown in carrying out their work since the end of March.
During a full council meeting last Thursday, he said: “It’s a big achievement and reflects a period of intense and committed work.”
More than 100 additional buses have been commissioned to run on school routes with capacity at around two-thirds on each vehicle.
Last week, several images circulated on social media of a crowded Canterbury school bus service, with youngsters “squished together” prompting bus operator Stagecoach to provide another bus on the route.
On Thursday, KCC’s main opposition leader Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said the Government guidance which came in mid-August on school transport was “too late” and “not helpful”.
The rules include children having to sit forward facing on buses while those aged over 11 should wear face masks.
KCC’s cabinet will discuss the reopening of Kent schools amid the pandemic during a virtual public meeting next Monday (Sep 21).