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Schools told to make their own call on re-opening

Plans for ‘bubble’ classes are drawn up

28 May, 2020 — By Richard Osley

Education chief Councillor Angela Mason

SCHOOLS have been left to make their own decisions over whether it is safe to re-open on Monday after the council said it refused to work to “arbitrary national deadlines”.

Many parents are still waiting for confirmation about when their children will be due back in, with primary schools taking different approaches. And the schools themselves do not know exactly how many parents will be willing to send their children back into classrooms following the coronavirus closures.

The government set June 1 as the day for Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to return, but some primary schools in Camden are not expected to meet this request and will instead stagger their plans over the next two weeks.

A final decision on whether the government believes it is safe to go back is not officially due until details of a lockdown review are announced later today (Thursday).

In the meantime, parents have contacted the New Journal asking questions like whether teachers will be taking lessons wearing facemasks and how lunch will work. Camden has said that PPE (personal protective equipment) is available but will not be worn routinely all day.

Trade union Unison has already demanded a delay to the return date, while the National Education Union said it was in close contact with the council and schools over how pupils and staff would be kept safe. In most cases, ‘bubble’ classes of 15 children at a time will be taught, many on a half-day basis, but schools are anxious not to cause more anxiety for their pupils.

While headteachers are not widely discussing their plans with the press, headteacher Kate Frood at Eleanor Palmer School in Tufnell Park told parents in a bulletin: “EP will not, as some schools featured by the media, become a sterile and hostile environment. That is impossible with our warm and positive staff and we are all well aware of the need to reassure and relax the children as school restarts and to make it normal as we can.”

The school, which has one of the clearest published plans, will stagger playtimes, reorganise classrooms and stop assemblies. Secondary schools are now working towards a return on June 15 for pupils who have exams next year.

Gerald Clark, from Camden NEU, said: “Some schools are going to return, others are not and we will be supporting our reps. The June 15 date is when the independent SAGE group said it believes the test, track and trace capacity will be up to a level where it will make a careful return to school possible. “We will know much more next week about how teachers are feeling about returning to school.”

He added: “We have a good dialogue with Camden. We have been working on the risk assessments with schools and raising concerns where necessary.”

The Town Hall’s education chief Labour councillor Angela Mason said she understood staff and parents’ concerns. “It is our duty to fully support headteachers and governing bodies to ensure they are able to put comprehensive safety measures in place, which will allow a gradual return to school in a safe and sustainable way,”

Cllr Mason added. “This isn’t about meeting an arbitrary national deadline, but finding the right balance for schools, pupils and families of safety and access to learning and support.”

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