"Heads know their staff and pupils," says council boss

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Coun

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Councillors insist it was right to let schools decide whether or not it was safe to reopen or not at the start of the new term.

Hundreds of primary school pupils across Norfolk are today starting the new term at home rather than at school after some head teachers decided not to open their doors.

The decision, in the wake of the rising coronavirus figures, followed calls from the National Education Union (NEU), which represents the majority of teachers, for all English primary schools to move online and advised its members it was not safe to return to classrooms.

Norfolk County Council said it is up to the individual school to decide whether pupils will be returning on Monday and insisted parents should check school communications to see if their school will be open.

And John Fisher, the county council's cabinet member for children’s services, said that was the right approach to take.

In an email to councillors, seen by this newspaper, he said: “Unless we are instructed otherwise by government we are allowing schools to make their own decisions on time/date/numbers for return which they feel is appropriate for their school.

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“Over the past four days we’ve had numerous telephone calls and zoom and teams meetings with school heads and this policy was agreed as the best way forward for Norfolk under the current circumstances.

“The heads and senior management team, or trusts of the schools will know their staff and their pupils and parents plus the school capacity and facilities and therefore it was agreed that they are the ones best placed to determine the way for their school.

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“We will support whatever decision individual schools take.

“We will also support schools with advice and guidance as we have done since March.”

He said the council was also “identifying finances” to support both testing and vaccination procedures for schools and temporary accommodation for this to take place.

Mr Fisher added that they believed “school is the best place for children to be, but the environment has to be safe for everybody".

However, last night opposition leaders at County Hall called for better support of schools, claiming further closures were 'inevitable'.

Steve Morphew, Labour Group Leader,  said: "I asked for information contingency plans a few days ago. Assurances that there was support for schools to enable them to operate safely, helping with testing and assisting with remote learning is already out of date and inadequate. That was the response to what was happening then, not contingency plans for what we are facing now."

Mike Smith-Clare, county councillor and Labour lead for children and young people, said they supported teachers and "all those insisting schools must be able to open in ways that are safe for all of us".

But he said the government had made it a "shambolic, confusing and damaging" situation for all adding that they were concerned about the "effect on especially children from less well off backgrounds whose education is being compromised".

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