Reopening schools - raising and responding to your concerns

May 30, 2020 8:23 AM

Child at computer (Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash)Over the past few weeks, there has been much discussion on whether certain year groups should return to school on 1st June. During that time I have organised a survey to better understand local people's views on the issue, and alongside our councillors have been following up the questions raised on the issue by you.

The local Liberal Democrat team and I have been impressed by the way that local schools have responded to the government's decision to reopen schools despite the lack of clarity on how to practically deliver some of the guidance issued, and we would like to thank local school heads and staff for the tireless work they are doing to ensure the best health and education outcomes for their pupils. However, I remain concerned that the Government is pressing ahead with reopening schools despite a report by the Independent Sage Group yesterday suggesting that reopening schools risks pushing the COVID-19 'R' rate above one.

Before I continue I also want to pay tribute to parents across Guildford, Cranleigh and beyond. As a mum of two (one in primary and one in secondary) I understand that the current arrangements are placing a large burden on parents who are often being asked to continue full-time employment, and difficult circumstances as "work from home", while also educating and entertaining your children - thank you all for your efforts, I know it isn't easy.

As I have said before, we all want to see children back in school so that they can see their friends and continue their education, but not if this risks a new COVID-19 spike.

Boris Johnson's Conservative Government has repeatedly claimed to be guided by science. Ministers must now look closely at this independent report to establish why those involved have reached a dramatically different conclusion to the Government about the risk of reopening schools next week. It is crucial that the Government must be able to guarantee that public health will not be put at risk as a result of a premature or rushed effort to get children back into classrooms. Of course, limiting the economic damage of COVID-19 relies on having people return to their jobs, which in turn relies on children returning to school, the impact from a second more severe spike would wreak even more damage to our prosperity and cause even more distress for households.

From the comments I have received on social media and the responses to my survey, it is clear that parents and teachers do not currently feel confident about children returning to school and need the Government to urgently provide clear, honest answers on the reasons for their decision - something that they have failed to provide so far. This is especially crucial given that the coronavirus alert level remains at level 4.

The physical and mental health of our children, school staff, families and the safety of the wider community must be our priority when reopening schools. Just as any easing of lockdown can only happen one the Government delivers a comprehensive strategy to test, trace and isolate to prevent a new surge in coronavirus cases, the same applies to schools.

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I will continue to watch carefully as schools reopen and hold the Government to account for their decisions on this issue and all others. If you have any questions you would like answering in relation to the reopening of schools please do get in touch with me by sending an email to zoe@guildfordlibdems.org.uk.

Z Franklin signature

Zöe Franklin
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Guildford, Cranleigh & our Villages

Answers to Your Questions from Surrey County Council on the Issue of Reopening Schools

  • Are schools allowed shorten the school week (and school hours each day) for all children, including children of critical workers?
    Surrey County Council (SCC) have confirmed that this is allowed and that individual schools/academy chains make these decisions locally based on a risk assessment, space, staff availability etc.
  • A school has claimed they have to shorten their opening hours because of contractual obligations to staff; is this correct and is there any way they can meet their contractual obligations without shortening the school week?
    SCC has again confirmed that this is a local decision and that they do not have any sway over contractual obligations or oversight of the issue.
  • Do schools have any duty of care to look after the children of critical workers, for at least normal school hours, so that their parents aren't forced to take leaves of absence from their critical jobs?
    Again, SCC has confirmed that this is a local decision.
  • Are there any plans for schools to provide care for children of key workers through the summer holidays (as per the Easter holidays in April) due to the likely lack of the normal summer clubs?
    SCC does not expect that schools will be the setting for any summer holiday programmes as there is also a need to consider the welfare of teachers, many of whom are exhausted and they too have been juggling their own childcare commitments with providing remote learning opportunities for students. The Department for Education has yet to provide any guidance on their thinking around summer schools but SCC is working up its own options with school leaders but it may be through Surrey Outdoor Learning Centre or similar and it will be highly targeted.
  • If there isn't any specific provision made for the children of critical care workers from 1st June how are critical workers meant to continue doing their jobs whilst also having to look after their children during the working day? And what will the impact of this be on services (such as the NHS) which are legally obliged to maintain minimum staffing levels?
    Children of key workers are prioritised but individual school offers are a local decision as explained above. SCC can't speak to the impact on other services but it is probably factored into the work of the Local Resilience Forum who are leading across the county on the coronavirus across Surrey.