'Like Russian Roulette' - Norfolk schools planning for closure until Easter
- Credit: Victoria Pertusa/Jamie Honeywood/Denise Bradley/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Norfolk schools have begun planning to teach students remotely until Easter - amid fears that opening too soon would be "like Russian Roulette".
Schools are open to vulnerable children and those of keyworkers, while the vast majority are learning remotely currently to the February half-term.
Norfolk headteachers said they were preparing to continue remote learning up to Easter and urged the government not to make any decisions "last minute".
Melodie Fearns, headteacher of St George's Primary, in Great Yarmouth, said the decision to reopen fully should be based on the risk of transmission to the community and staff not on economic factors.
She said: "I personally cannot see this position changing in the near future and so I think we will begin opening after Easter when the virus will also be in decline due to the weather and a large proportion of the population will be vaccinated.
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"If we can provide a standard of teaching and content similar to that we provide in normal onsite operation then there is nothing wrong with keeping children safe at home and keeping them learning."
She added: "We can do this for a long period if it is necessary but it is tough for everyone and especially teachers and so no one wants to prolong this more than necessary.
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"But coming to school every day like we are doing now is like playing Russian Roulette – any of us could get the virus as we are mixing every day and many staff are in the vulnerable category too or old like me and could end up in intensive care in the next 10 days.
"We all celebrate on a Friday that we’ve made it through another week and keep our fingers crossed for the next one, hoping our luck doesn’t run out."
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, spoke at the Education Select Committee on Tuesday and discussed how schools may reopen following the current national lockdown.
She said it was likely to be through a regional approach.
A spokesman for Boris Johnson said he wanted schools to open "as soon as possible" but it would depend on a number of things including the progress in the vaccination programme and the possibility of a new coronavirus variant emerging which resisted the jab.
Stuart Allen, headteacher of Mile Cross Primary School, said staff were planning to continue with a blended learning approach up to Easter and if the school could open to more children before then it would.
He said: "Surviving this term is all that is on the minds of school leaders and ensuring that everyone is safe and well.
"The best way we can support schools, children, parents and communities is having clear and concise messages going forward. Last minute decisions are not helpful and lead to uncertainty, unease and lack of confidence in those decisions and actions."
Tom Pinnington, head of Notre Dame High, in Norwich, said young people had shown resilience and quickly adapted to remote learning.
He said: "Predicting such matters feels like a futile thing to do. All we know is that the restrictions on schools will continue until at least February half term.
"I am optimistic in that the rollout of vaccination is accelerating, this is the key to welcoming back young people.
"A staged return may be the most sensible option, allowing schools to carry out the mass testing that they have been asked to complete and monitoring the effects of school return on local and national infection rates."
Scott Lyons, district secretary of the Norfolk branch of the National Education Union, said: "The mood music has definitely changed. In September with Covid deaths just in double figures, school staff were positive and buoyant about getting 'back to normal'.
"January there was a real and physical terror from many staff about going into classes with 30 children, who are vectors of transmission after Christmas mixing and new variant causing 600 deaths a day.
"Schools' partial opening has helped to bring deaths and cases down in communities.
"I think there is now a moral and ethical courage needed by schools to only open fully when the case in their community are at a low enough level as not to cause more infections, death and bereavement.
"This might mean certain communities and areas of Norfolk may need to be on partial opening for longer than others."
John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said the current government decision to fully reopen schools would be based on virus infection rates, and vaccination and testing progress.
He added: "Whatever the decision, we will continue to provide support, advice and guidance to schools and academies."