Kent education chiefs say schools face ‘tough time’ in efforts to remain open

Ursuline College has had to close to all students

By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan

Kent schools will face a  ‘tough time’ to stay open between now and the Christmas holidays, say local education chiefs.

More closures have been forecast before the end of 2020 as the county experiences a rapid rise of Covid infections in the 13 districts, particularly in Swale and Thanet, which have some of the highest rates in the country.

Matt Dunkley, who is the corporate director for education at Kent County Council (KCC), says he ‘sympathises’ with around 600 local headteachers who face a ‘maze’ of Government guidance in managing any outbreaks.

The Whitehall advice has been described as ‘confusing’ and ‘challenging’ and earlier today, he warned: “At the moment actual school closures are fairly rare, but the challenge of the next few weeks may change that.”

More than 150 schools have reported coronavirus cases to both KCC and Medway Council since the pandemic started nine months ago, but closure notices have begun to rise, with at least nine recorded in the last fortnight.

Speaking to a panel of councillors at KCC’s education committee earlier today, Mr Dunkley also said: ” This second wave of the pandemic has hit both schools and the department much harder than the first.

“The logistical challenges the council and schools are now facing are upon us in quick order, including choices around closing year groups and classes.

“Some schools have had to close very suddenly because of a rapid rise in infections.”

Mr Dunkley said headteachers and the county council were ‘struggling’ to avoid the ‘domino effect’ of school closures which has led to some staff from other schools having children at home that they need to look after.

“Between now and Christmas our schools are in for a tough time to keep as open,” said Mr Dunkley.

He added: “We are all hoping that moves to some kind of vaccine will offer respite in the new year.”

Swale and Thanet have the highest infection rates in Kent, both have more than 500 cases per 100,000 people, which has also seen several schools affected in these areas.

Ursuline College in Westgate has shut its doors to all pupils, more than 700 in total, until December 1 while Sittingbourne’s Fulston Manor has also closed after some students and 10 teachers tested positive for Covid.

Fulston Manor School’s executive head teacher Alan Brookes, also the chairman of the Kent Association for Headteachers, said school heads continue to ‘grapple’ with the ‘contradicting’ Government guidance.

He said: “It has already been an enormously challenging time for schools and becoming ever more so now, particularly in Swale and Thanet.”

However Boris Johnson’s Government says it continues to ‘prioritise’ the long-term future of children and will not be closing schools or universities.

On November 4, The Department for Education said: “It remains very important for children and young people to attend, to support their wellbeing and education and help working parents and guardians.

“Senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be, and so they should continue to go to school.”

But they added: “Education settings and childcare settings must continue to take swift action when they become aware of a confirmed case of coronavirus in their setting.”

8 Comments

  1. I hesitate to write this because I realise opinions are very divided but the present situation is too worrying, so here I go.
    It is clear that the precautions taken in schools thus far do not seem to be working and this makes me feel that older children should now wear masks in class and not only in corridors which, I believe, has been the case so far. In many schools they are all sitting together in one small classroom for lengthy periods of time without masks so if one pupil is infected it is obvious that, potentially, it could be passed on and taken home to other families.
    The general population (including older children) are now expected to wear masks in all public places so I fail to see why this should not be the case for older children in school classrooms. They aren’t comfortable and they are inconvenient but comfort and convenience are not what should be considered, we have gone far beyond that and now need to ask everyone, including older children, to wear masks inside every confined place where groups are gathered together.
    It may or it may not help the situation but we will never know until it is tried, and surely it is worth trying? The education of children and the safety of adults might depend upon it.
    If I am proved wrong (and I hope I am) and the situation does not improve if older children wear masks in class, then I will stop griping about this but until then I will continue to wonder if schools might now be main cause of the spread of Covid 19.

  2. It seems obvious to me that schools are a big cause of the rise in infections & I just cannot understand why they weren’t included in the 4 week lockdown. I feel keeping them open is just prolonging things & is very stressful for teachers & parents, especially where there are vulnerable family members, for whom no provision seems to have been made.

    • Do you believe older children should be treated like the adult population and wear masks in classrooms when they return to school? They have to wear them in shops so why not class? It would be helpful to have your opinion.

      • All schools should have been shut at the same time as the 2nd lockdown. I can’t understand why the government didn’t implement this. It’s common sense that school remaining open are part of the cause of the surge of coronavirus.

    • The situation in schools doesn’t explain why the rise of infection in Thanet is so high. Children are going to schools in other parts of the UK where there are much lower rates of infection.
      Face coverings, unless they are medical quality, are not likely to help much.

      • Surely face coverings in class would help. Everyone knows that we wear a mask to protect other people. They catch droplets which we might inadvertently pass on during, for instance, a sudden unexpected sneeze. I am still convinced that for this reason masks should be worn in class by older children just as those children are expected, like the rest of us, to wear them in shops. The situation is exactly the same in shops and classrooms; large numbers of people in confined spaces, so why are there different rules?

  3. But why is it some schools don’t seem to be either having a problem or shutting? Having children in different secondary schools across Thanet they all seem to be doing it differently, some obviously better than others as one child’s school has shut and the other child’s school seems to have had hardly anything and is still open.

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