The wider reopening of schools - A message from the Leader
The top priority for Haringey Council during this global pandemic is to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of all Haringey residents; both from directly succumbing to this deadly disease, or to the consequences of it.
We have helped shield, feed, and house people, kept parks open, and maintained essential services, but our most important achievement has been to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus through the diverse Haringey community. We see that Covid-19, already a tragedy, has had a disproportionate impact within all BAME communities.
Furthermore, we are committed to ensuring that we protect and support people who are at the frontline, assisting our residents and continuing to deliver services.
Schools have remained open to support vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Teachers are working, both in school and from home, and supporting distance learning by pupils. However, as a Local Authority we must take a view on the wider impact of a further opening of schools, and this administration believes that this is neither appropriate nor practicable to set any arbitrary date to do it.
As a Council, reducing the inequalities that our residents face is one of our highest priorities. Education is a vital tool in reducing those inequalities and one of the many harmful consequences of this crisis has been that those children and young people who need school most have not been able to attend. However, any further reopening of our schools must be on the basis that is safe to do so. We are calling for the government to step back from the 1st June date and to work with councils, schools and the unions to create the conditions for a safe, phased return to schools based primarily upon the following principles and tests:
- Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle
- No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme and the availability of data on local infection rates
- A national Covid-19 education taskforce with government, unions and education stakeholders, to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening of schools
- Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing economic disadvantage
- Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments
- Local autonomy to close schools where local testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases
Our hard-working teaching staff, as well as children and parents, must be convinced that when they go to school it is as safe as possible. This can only be based upon the above conditions being met, not dictated by meeting an arbitrary date.
The Department of Education’s chief scientific adviser admits that wider unregulated reopening of schools could fuel the spread of Coronavirus. The Council is working to provide practical assistance in drafting risk assessments to ensure they are as comprehensive as possible. It is vital that for each school, heads, teachers, support staff, governors and, crucially, families have confidence that the five tests set out by government, and the principles and tests called for by the education unions, have been met; and that the risk assessments carried out by each school, and signed off by their governing bodies, are robust.
However, even under these conditions, we understand that some parents may decide to exercise their own judgement and will continue to keep their children at home.
We know how deeply stressful this situation is for all concerned and want to take the opportunity to thank all head teachers, teachers, school staff and governors. We are working closely and in partnership with our schools and the unions and will only support the wider opening of schools when we can be confident that there is a properly risk-managed approach which safely supports and leads to a Covid-Safe environment, that minimises the transmission of Coronavirus to/from children, staff and parents.
Cllr Joseph Ejiofor,
Leader of Haringey Council.