By Grahame Anderson
The children’s commissioner for England has led the call for ministers and teaching unions to ‘stop squabbling’ and work together to facilitate the reopening of schools across the country.
Anne Longfield’s comments follow a week of turmoil in the education sector in the light of the announcement primary schools Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 should look to open from the start of next month.
Ms Longfield pointed to data suggesting NHS nurseries open during the lockdown had not suffered any outbreaks of coronavirus.
She added: “We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school.
“It’s time to stop squabbling and agree a staggered, safe return that is accompanied by rigorous testing of teachers, children and families.”
The row escalated further following an inconclusive meeting between teaching unions and Government scientific advisers in the hope of reassuring staff it was safe to return to school. This, despite the presence of Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, and the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance.
Union representatives said they had been left with more questions than answers, with one leader describing the scientific evidence as “flimsy at best”.
General secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, Patrick Roach said: “Teachers needed clear evidence schools would be “Covid secure” and would not pose a risk to public health.”
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme in the week, former Labour education secretary Lord Blunkett waded into the debate expressing surprise at the attitude of union leaders. He said:“I am being deeply critical of the attitude. It’s about how can we work together to make it work as safely as possible. Anyone who works against that in my view is working against the interests of children.”
Reaction To Schools Announcement
Following the Prime Ministers announcement last Sunday Mr Brown, headteacher at Hadrian Primary School in South Shields posted on facebook: “We hope to learn more from the government over the coming days and weeks and will update you as soon as we know more, so we can tell you what this will mean for our school.
“In the meantime, school will remain open only for vulnerable children and those of key workers until the end of May.”
Nichola Fullard, headteacher at Town End Academy in Sunderland said while awaiting further advice: “As you know the safety of pupils, staff and the wider community of Town End is always my priority and this will be at the forefront of any plans we make. In the short term, nothing has changed.”
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “In the absence of clear scientific advice and a safety plan, the Government has not demonstrated it is in a position to start planning for the wider safe opening of schools, or given any reassurance to parents, teachers and pupils that they will be safe.”
Research from the Health Information and Quality Authority has suggested despite limited evidence, children are not significant contributors to the spread.
The group’s deputy chief executive and director of health technology assessment Dr Mairin Ryan said: “One study suggests that, while there is high transmission of COVID-19 among adults aged 25 years or older, transmission is lower in younger people, particularly in those under 14 years of age.”
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, has said: “There’s a lot of anxiety I think around this but people need to think through – in an average infant school with 100 children the likelihood of anybody having this disease is very small and diminishing with time.”
This flies in the face of the British Medical Association – which has said schools should not reopen until the numbers of coronavirus cases were much lower.
And in its first public statement The Bradford Science Collective, formed ‘to counter government propaganda about the coronavirus, untainted by political influence’, made it clear reopening schools early would be crazy, and could cause a surge in deaths, forcing Britain back into full lockdown again.
Many Council leaders believe schools should be allowed to make their own decisions about reopening – especially in areas with a higher proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic residents. In fact, several have made it clear they will defy central Government if schools are told to open their doors.
The Local Government Association has demanded the Government should urgently publish the scientific evidence underpinning the decision to reopen England’s schools.
Meanwhile, Farnham primary school In Bradford, a member of Pennine Academies Yorkshire, have been monitoring the situation each day since lockdown was announced back in March.
Asian Sunday has learned In a letter to parents dated 16th May the school said: “I hope you are all safe and well and looking after your loved ones as we now enter the 8th week of lockdown.
The Government yesterday did not announce a date for schools to open. They suggested the 1st of June as an aspirational date as long as the safety measures are met. These have not been met as yet.
For this reason Pennine Schools are not planning for a June 1st opening. We cannot plan to open schools until we have further clarity from the Government and that we can guarantee staff and pupil safety.
We will of course continue to meet the needs of key workers and children the Government refers to as ‘vulnerable’ using our Hub school, Hollingwood Primary.
In the meantime, keep those routines going at home which are so important for mental health and well being of children. Teachers are continually updating the Home Learning and Classes pages on our website.
For now, nothing has changed so please keep social distancing, wash hands frequently and stay safe at home.”
Clear Message From Government
A DfE spokeswoman said: “Plans for a phased return of some year groups from 1 June, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice. The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.
In Saturdays Downing Street press briefing, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson made it clear the government will look at the R rate in great detail and schools “will only return if five tests have been met”.