Council leaders working with schools for pupils to return 'when it is safe to do so'

Education leads at Cambridgeshire County Council are working with schools, Academy Trusts and the Diocese from across the region to look at bespoke plans for the safe return of pupils – based on Government scientific advice which is expected to be released on 28 May 2020.

While the final decision on when and how to open individual schools rests with their head teachers and the governing bodies who run them, the Government has encouraged schools to consider beginning to re-open education provision from 1 June. This will mean additional primary provision for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils and secondary schools working with pupils from Year 10 and Year 12 to ensure they are supported for important exams next year. Special schools will also begin to welcome more pupils. Councillor Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, confirmed, ‘the safety of our children, their families and school staff is always our number one priority and we are supporting schools to make decisions based on their individual circumstances’.

Schools have said it will be difficult to maintain the two metre social distance guidelines at all times, particularly very young children, leading to problems with the number of children allowed on-site. There are also concerns about staff and children who fall into the very vulnerable ‘shielded’ groups.

Clear in the knowledge that there is no ‘one size fits all solution’, council education leads have been working with schools to create bespoke plans specific to each one and their circumstance, which include revised cleaning regimes, sourcing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and allowing for phased re-openings.

As part of the plans, schools which have remained continuously open since February for vulnerable children and children of key workers, may close to all pupils for next week’s half term holiday – which includes Bank Holiday Monday. This is to allow staff more time to plan for a phased return, including adapting their buildings to accommodate returning pupils.

Jonathan Lewis, Service Director for Education at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “While there is no denying myself and all the Headteachers I speak to want to see our pupils back and learning in our schools, we will only encourage pupils to return when the scientific evidence is clear that is safe to do so’.

“Our Headteachers have been working tirelessly to consider different models of phased re-opening long before the government made any announcements. Some will be able to take pupils from 1 June, but some will not. I can’t ask them all to stick to the same timeline – it simply isn’t feasible nor safe.

“Our parents have been doing an incredible job educating their children at home, and I cannot thank them enough. I know this is a concerning and uncertain time, but I want to reassure them that our schools are putting pupils first and doing the right thing. They will update parents directly on their plans.”

The council has confirmed that – in line with government guidance – no penalty fines will be issued to any parent or carer who doesn’t send their child to school between now and the start of the next school year. Clarification is also being sought from Government about the extension of free school meals for eligible children whether in or out of school.

Cllr Simon Bywater, Cambridgeshire County Council Chairman of the Children and Young People’s Committee, said: “Education is critical to the development of our children and young adults, to help them learn, thrive and do well in later life, but we will not cut corners and ask anyone to return to school where is not safe to do so. As a parent myself, I appreciate how much debate and confusion the situation is causing, but I have full confidence in how this is being managed at a local level by my education and school colleagues.”

Nursery and early years settings are also being encouraged to re-open from 1 June, and have been asked to prioritise places for three and four year olds – along with vulnerable children and those of key workers.