Parents facing ‘chaos and confusion’ over open schools
PUBLISHED: 17:35 17 March 2020 | UPDATED: 17:39 17 March 2020
Parents have described facing confusion over coronavirus school closures and a lack of clarity about what circumstances they should keep their children at home.
The Education Secretary insisted on Tuesday that the current medical and scientific guidance says that schools and other educational settings should remain open.
Gavin Williamson, while announcing the suspension of routine Ofsted inspections, said they will announce closures only if the chief medical officer or chief scientific adviser say it is in the best interests of children and teachers.
However staffing issues amid the growing outbreak are now seeing Norfolk schools forced into total or partial closures.
Hellesdon High School, Colman Infant School in Norwich, and Stibbard All Saints Primary, near Fakenham, were among the schools that were partially closed on Tuesday.
Clover Hill Infant and Nursery School and St Michael’s Junior School in Bowthorpe were totally closed for a deep clean after a parent tested positive for coronavirus.
Meanwhile Taverham High School said it had taken the “difficult decision” to close the school to Years 8 and 9 pupils on Wednesday due to staff absence.
Other schools have faced a wave of pupil absences as parents made the decision to keep their children at home.
MORE: Families in self-isolation hit out at lack of coronavirus testing
The uncertain situation is causing concern among many parents. Some live in households with relatives who are elderly or have underlying health conditions. Others face taking unpaid leave from work.
Mum-of-four Laura Fox, from Norwich, said: “I’m really struggling as a parent to four boys in which I suffer from health problems as to whether to take my boys out.”
Her son Ryan, 17, is doing a community sports foundation course at Norwich City, while Callum, 9, and Quinn, 7, attend St William’s Primary, and Jenson, 4, is in nursery.
She said: “I’m stressing day by day and don’t know what to do for the best. This is such a catch 22 situation.
“I personally think Boris needs to take power to shut schools so us parents are not going through the stress every day of deciding what to do for the best.”
Posting on our Norfolk Coronavirus Updates Facebook page, Sonia Driscoll, who is also in one of the high risk groups, said she was taking the drastic step of moving out to stay somewhere else whilst her son works towards his A-levels.
She said: “His sixth form has been excellent with their communication to all parents, but are unable to send work home to students that don’t attend their classes.
“I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to have a partner who also works from home, so my son has a parent still to come home to.”
MORE: People self-isolating must ask for help says Norfolk’s public health chief
Tanya Lee, from King’s Lynn, said: “Anyone worried about their children still attending school needs to go into school and talk to them. My son’s school has been brilliant and in guidelines those with health problems in the household need to isolate. School has a code to authorise this absence until after Easter when we will know more by then.”
In some cases the dilemma has led to parental differences of opinion. Jason Bunn, whose children attend Long Stratton High School, said he felt schools should close.
He said: “I would take my children out now but my partner doesn’t agree, causing friction between us.”
The lack of clear advice for schools is creating “chaos and confusion” and placing “intolerable pressure” on staff, said teachers’ union NASUWT, which represents teachers and head teachers.
It said there was a “rising sense of panic” as it called for a definitive decision on how to protect staff and pupils.
MORE: The list of vulnerable groups being urged to follow strict social distancing
In a letter to the prime minister, National Education Union (NEU) general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney proposed that teachers and school leaders work on plans to open schools on a limited basis.
They added: “Of course, this could not be a full opening and it would mean substantial changes from the way schools are normally run - but we believe schools could be important community hubs.
“This in turn requires that Sats are abandoned and that you produce proposals on the inevitable widespread disruption to GCSE and A-level exams.”
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