Labour says more science behind the decision to call children back to school next month is required if parents, carers and teachers are to have confidence in schools operating safely again during the Covid-19 outbreak. Schools have been open to a limited number of vulnerable pupils as well as those of key workers, but 1st June is the date Boris Johnson has given for when Reception, Years One and Six pupils are expected to return to primary schools.
Labour Councillor Bob Webb has said that the science informing the Government’s decision is unclear, leaving families and teaching staff nervy about what the future holds. Many parents have already indicated that their children won’t be returning on 1st June.
He said: “There is a great deal of uncertainty and discomfort amongst primary school leaders being expected to prepare for up to half of school numbers coming back in early June, with the potential for full attendance only a few weeks later. The decision appears to be based on the idea that children are less susceptible to coronavirus and more resilient to its main symptoms, but this doesn’t prevent them transmitting it to their parents and carers, and indeed teachers, all of whom will be more at risk if they do catch it.
“We need to support school leaders in doing everything they can to create learning environments that are as low-risk as possible, which will be no mean feat, but like many of them, we have serious concerns about the risk to public health of this move, which is probably a few weeks premature at best”.
Labour has backed the largest teachers union in the UK, the NEU, in its five tests that must be met before it is safe to fully re-open schools. These are detailed in the following graphic.
There is no expectation from the Government that PPE should be used in the classroom, where social distancing will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. While Government guidance states PPE is not required other than in ‘personal care’ situations, this can be applicable in reception classes on a regular basis.
It has also emerged that the chief scientific advisor to the Department for Education has made no assessment of how effectively government guidance on schools gradually re-opening can be implemented, raising further doubts about the science informing the Government’s decision.
Cllr Webb continued: “We want the council to support each and every school with major concerns about child, teacher and parent and carer safety over the next few weeks given the unenviable position they’re now in. This includes receiving public health advice locally on York’s own specific circumstances, so they are better able to make informed decisions.
“Some parents and carers will simply make the decision to keep children off school and the Government has confirmed fines will not be issued in these cases. But that doesn’t mean existing plans won’t still lead to a great deal of anxiety given the uncertainty families and schools now face”.