Heads know best when schools should reopen, say council chiefs
- Credit: Julian Claxton Photography
Education chiefs say they recognise how “demanding” it will be for Norfolk schools to open to more children in the months ahead - and that headteachers will be best placed to decide when to reopen.
Prime minister Boris Johnson outlined plans earlier this month to partially reopen schools for pupils in nursery, reception and years one and six from June 1.
But teachers’ unions have called for more answers from the government over whether children and staff will be safe if schools reopen in England.
Some councils, including in Liverpool and Hartlepool, have already said their schools will not be reopening on June 1, other than for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, who had still been going to school.
However, Norfolk County Council, said it is working with the county’s schools to support their reopening.
But County Hall officers say it will be headteachers who take the ultimate decisions.
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Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion at Norfolk County Council, said: “Getting more children back to school in a phased way that meets public health guidelines is challenging for schools, who will have to adapt their classrooms and their curriculum, as well as helping children to catch up with any missed learning.
“We recognise how demanding this will be for all of those working in education and we are grateful for their continued work.
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“We ask parents for their patience, as schools make detailed plans and to keep an eye out for communications from their children’s schools.
“Schools know their children and families and will know what will work best locally. They will able to make decisions on how to open and which children can return based on their own risk assessments.
Penny Sheppard, headteacher at Queen’s Hill Primary and Nursery School in Costessey, said schools were discussing risk plans with the local authority through cluster advisors.
She said: “I feel that the local authority is being very supportive of us in the risk assessments. Each head teacher is doing the best that they can in the situation that they find themselves in.
“We can encourage social distancing but it is very difficult to actually police that in a primary school setting because you are dealing with young children. All we can do is mitigate the risk. “So what is more important for us is to make sure we keep children in their pods, which is what we call them, and that they don’t mix in large groups across those pods and that we continually remind the children to have good hand hygiene.
“Really for our point of view it is about the adults working in different ways because children are children and for their mental health and wellbeing they need to play together. So what my staff are doing is coming up with lots of different ideas of games that children can play outside that don’t involve physical contact and resources that we can use that can easily be washed.
“We are being as creative as we can be to reduce the risk.”
Ms Snudden added: “Schools have stayed open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers throughout this pandemic and have been working day and night to ensure their children have access to learning and food. This work will continue as more children return to school.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Norfolk, she said she understood some might be reluctant to send their children back but the government had said attendance would be voluntary and it would be at the discretion of parents.