A number of Thanet primary schools will not open for pupils tomorrow

St Gregory's Catholic Primary School

Some primary schools in Thanet have notified parents that they will not be reopening to pupils tomorrow (January 4)

St Gregory’s Catholic Primary School in Margate says the plan had been to open but due to staff having to self-isolate “we do not feel confident that we would be able to open and ensure the health and safety of our school community.”

Instead the school plans to reopen on January 11 if staffing levels enable that decision.

A letter to parents and carers says: “As you may be aware from the news, the government have decided that despite being in a Tier 4 area, all Thanet schools can re-open from next week.

“Given the new strain of the virus and the speed at which it is passed on, we appreciate that this is causing anxiety amongst our parents, children and staff. However, in line with government guidance we had planned to open next week.

“We have reviewed our risk assessment and unfortunately, due to staff who are currently needing to self-isolate, we do not feel confident that we would be able to open and ensure the health and safety of our school community.

“As such we have made the difficult decision to not open the building to children until Monday 11th January, should all our staff be well and able to be on-site.”

From Tuesday, January 5, teachers will be posting online learning.

‘State of disbelief at government decision’ says St Peter-in-Thanet Junior School head teacher

St Peter-in-Thanet Junior School will remain closed to all except vulnerable and key worker pupils until at least January 18.

In a letter to parents and carers headteacher Tim Hunter-Whitehouse says he was in “a state of disbelief” at the government’s decision to close other Kent schools whilst expecting those in four districts, including Thanet, to reopen.

He adds: “You will also no doubt be aware that the unions have decided that they have no other choice now but to advise staff that face to face teaching for the majority of children should not take place.

“Whilst we have been doing everything that we can to make St Peter’s as safe as possible, I believe that the government’s decision to keep schools open in Thanet is reckless and does not pay due regard to the safety of children, their families or of my staff and their families. The government’s decision appears ill-thought through and goes against the latest SAGE advice.

“At present we do not know the outcome of Kent’s pressure, or indeed the possibility of good sense prevailing in Whitehall. There may indeed be a last minute reversal and all schools will be officially told to close.I really do hope that this is the case.

“But if it isn’t, I’ve taken the decision that for at least the first two weeks of January St Peter’s will only be open for the children of key workers and our most vulnerable children and that we will support the majority of our children’s learning remotely.”

Mr Hunter-Whitehouse says that whilst he hopes there will be a last minute U-turn he has taken the decision that St Peter-in-Thanet school will remain shut to all but key worker and vulnerable children for two weeks, with all other pupils using online learning.

He adds it is a decision not taken lightly but adds: “I do not think this will be for long -there truly is light at the end of the tunnel and I have every hope that with better testing and as vaccines take effect, that schools and the country will begin to feel normal once more in the near future.”

Inset Days at Kemnal Academies Trust schools

Drapers Mills Primary Academy, Salmestone Primary and Northdown Primary in Margate plus Dame Janet and Newlands primary school in Ramsgate are also delaying opening to pupils and will have an inset day tomorrow (January 4) followed by two days for keyworker and vulnerable children only.

A letter to parents and carers from the schools, which are managed by the Kemnal Academies Trust, says: “Our school is in a COVID 19 Tier 4 area and the new strain has significantly increased the number of people who are being infected. The safety of our children and staff remains our prime concern.

“As result, on the advice of the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), we have taken the difficult decision, at short notice, to delay the opening of our school. This is to enable us to review our risk assessments and put in place any further safety measures that may be needed.

“At the direction of the Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), Monday 4th January (tomorrow) will now be an INSET day and our school will be closed to all children. On Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th January school will now be open to vulnerable children and children from Keyworker families only.

“All other children will be taught via remote. We intend to open our school to all children from Thursday 7th January, but this is subject to any changes to national guidance. We will of course let you know of any changes as soon as we know.

“This decision has not been taken lightly and we fully appreciate the inconvenience this will cause, but the safety of the children and staff comes first. We are grateful for your understanding and continued support during this most difficult of times.”

Bromstone Primary and St Mildred’s Infant Schools

Bromstone  Primary and St Mildred’s Infant schools in Broadstairs executive headteacher James Williams  said the schools will be shut for Monday and Tuesday “in the first instance” apart from for vulnerable and key worker children.

He wrote to parents to say: “I was more than a little surprised that the four East Kent districts – Thanet, Canterbury, Folkestone and Dover – were not included when the directive was issued on Friday. It was then also slightly strange that when all London boroughs were asked to close that East Kent was not. Since this last government decision I have spoken to the Area Education Officer at KCC and had communication from the Chairman of the Kent Association of Headteachers, who have both questioned this decision, as well as one of the Thanet MPs, Sir Roger Gale, who has been very clear with his thoughts that it is not safe for Thanet primaries to open at this time.

“Unfortunately these requests have as yet fallen on deaf ears in government but I have a responsibility to the staff and pupils of our schools and their health must come first, as must that of family members who can also be affected through school transmission.

“To that effect, I have taken the decision to partially close both schools for two days in the first instance – Monday 4th January and Tuesday 5th January. This will mean that both schools will only be open for the children of Key Workers or those pupils who are deemed as ‘vulnerable’ (generally, but not exclusively, those who are in receipt of an EHCP).

“We will have Breakfast Club provision available at both schools alongside this provision and you will not be obliged to attend school every day if your working pattern does not require that. During this time we will thoroughly re-visit and update our school Risk Assessments and staff availability in order to decide the course of action that is best in the longer term.”

Chilton Primary School and Upton Junior School

Chilton head of school Kate Law has told parents/carers that the school will stay shut to all except vulnerable and key worker children for the first two weeks of the new term, until January 15 “at least.”

She said: “Whilst we continue to do everything we can to make Chilton as safe as possible, under current circumstances I do not believe it is safe for the whole school to be open.”

She adds: “What I hope is that by taking action now we can assist in reducing infection rates and avoid a longer period of closure in the future which would be far more detrimental.”

Upton Junior School has notified parents of their closure for the same dates (online learning from January 5). It is understood the same applies to Ramsgate Arts Primary as all three schools come under the Viking Academy Trust.

St Joseph’s Primary

The Broadstairs primary says that due to staffing levels, the school has been left with no alternative other than to close  classes until January 18 or until further guidance is issued, apart from children who have parents who are Key Workers, have an EHCP or are vulnerable.

No fines

Schools, including St George’s in Broadstairs, have told parents that “no fines will be issued for pupils not attending school” although the school is required to follow government attendance codes.

St George’s C/E school

Headteacher of St George’s Foundation School in Broadstairs Adam Mirams says the school will be open for “those families that really need us over the next two weeks and for those children that remain highly vulnerable.”

He adds: “If you feel that it is unsafe to send your child to school then that is your decision and I will not be fining or criticising you for this. The decision rests with individual families and I for one will be continuing all I can to ensure the safety of all.

“I have for over 9 months now had to continually weigh up the risk to our school community, follow Government advice and this is not the way in which I would want 2021 to start for all of us. I would once again reiterate that I am not closing the school I am simply giving all parents the choice in whether your child attends or not. The decision is yours.

“All lessons will continue either remotely or via Purple Mash and if in school children will be taught in Year Group PODS as before.

“There will continue to be a wide range of opinions around the topic of school opening and infection rates but in my opinion the decision over school attendance must lay with you as parents. We will continue to do all we can to support you, I will try and provide as much clarity as I can and my overall aim is to keep infection rates down, support our NHS and Critical workers and ensure that the people we care for most remain well.

“If your child will not be attending school, please report the absence via the attendance email attendance@st-georgescofe-thanet.kent.sch.uk stating your child’s name, year group and length of absence.”

Newington primary

Newington head teacher Cliff Stokes has also issued a news letter to say all covid measures will be in place but tells parents: “I am not in a position to determine whether children will be safe in school, that is your choice and we will, of course, support you with whatever decision you make on behalf of your children.”

Christ Church Junior School in Ramsgate is open from Tuesday (January 5) but is also leaving the decision up to parents about sending children in to class.

A letter sent out today says some staff have sent letters to say they will not return to face to face teaching but will provide online learning but there are enough staff to open to pupils.

The letter adds: “We would like to reassure parents that the decision rests with them entirely and the school will support any decision they make at this time.”

Staff shortages

Parents and carers with children at Cliftonville primary have received a message saying: “Many apologies for the late notice but due to staff shortages the school will be closed tomorrow and until further notice to Pre School, Year R, Year 1 and Year 5.

“Provision for critical workers and vulnerable children will begin from Tuesday. Further information on this will follow. The school remains open to Y2, Y3, Y4 and Y6. We look forward to welcoming you back tomorrow at your year groups time.”

St Anthony’s School in Cliftonville is closed tomorrow (January 4) and parents will be contacted for details of the rest of term.

Unconfirmed

Other primary schools on the isle may have closures but we have been unable to confirm. These include Garlinge primary -closure Monday and Tuesday; and Ramsgate Holy Trinity – closure until January 18. Advice is to contact your child’s school if unsure.

Thanet’s Green Councillors Becky Wing – who is a teacher -Mike Garner and Trevor Roper say in a situation worsened by the abject failure of the test-and-trace system and the new B117 Covid-19 variant, school staff and parents now face further uncertainty and worry as the new term approaches.

They say headteachers have neither the space nor the personnel to manage Covid-secure testing in schools at the rate promised by the Government. Unable to access vaccines, staff, pupils and parents are increasingly concerned about the risk of infection, with the new variant proving both more prevalent among the young and significantly more infectious.

Cllr Wing said: “As a teacher myself, I know how important school attendance is, especially for vulnerable children and those with special needs.  Key workers need to know that their children are safe at school while they work on the front line to support us all. But we must balance the benefits of being in school against the health of the community as a whole.

“Here in Thanet, Covid-19 infections are on the rise again. Hospitals are overwhelmed, with more than double the number of serious Covid-19 cases than in the first wave.  Staff are stretched to the maximum, unable to meet safe nursing requirements for the most seriously ill, but with no sign of respite. Sending all children back to school in these circumstances is madness, and risks burdening young people and their parents with the results of the Government’s poor decision-making.”

Thanet Green Councillors are calling on the Government to provide joined-up community-wide policy-making to reduce the spread of the virus, by ensuring safe school-based learning for those who need it most, facilitating home-learning for the rest, rethinking exam policy for this summer and beyond – and by providing clarity, leadership and planning for the future.

Roger Gough

Kent County Council Leader Roger Gough and Cabinet Member for Education and Skills Richard Long have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to urge him to keep primary schools closed in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe.

Kent County Council says it does not have any statutory powers to order schools to close.

The Government announced earlier this week that the majority of secondary school pupils will learn remotely for an additional week after the current school holidays, returning to the classroom on Monday, January 18 instead of Monday, January 11 as planned.

Pupils in Years 11 and 13 will return to school on Monday, January 11 and will be provided with remote learning as soon as possible.

Primary school pupils in Thanet, Canterbury, Dover and Folkestone and Hythe are expected to return on Monday, January 4 while the other districts in Kent will learn remotely for the first two weeks of term with arrangements being reviewed on Monday, January 18.

Questions have been raised over why some primary schools in Kent will only open to vulnerable children and pupils whose parents are key workers while other areas must open the doors to all youngsters from January 4.

On December 30 Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said a ‘small number of areas where infection rates are highest’ will only open schools for vulnerable children and those whose parents are critical workers until review on January 18.

A list of those areas includes Dartford, Gravesham, Sevenoaks, Medway, Ashford, Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, Tunbridge Wells and Swale.

Thanet primary schools were not listed for continued closure despite being in Tier 4 and having a higher covid rate per 100,000 than Tunbridge Wells where school opening has been delayed.

‘Unsafe’

Yesterday (January 2) the National Education Union told all its members that is believes it is unsafe for them to return to schools.

It is understood that “preliminary steps in legal proceedings against the Department for Education” have also been taken by other teaching unions.

The NEU has written to all employers and all head teachers and principals giving the same advice and asking them to make preparations for a move to remote learning instead.

An online meeting held by the NEU this morning attracted some 400,000 viewers.