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Lib Dems call out “ill-thought-out” decision to open schools without proper support

June 4, 2020 6:15 PM
By Danny Simm

The Liberal Democrats have called out the Government's "ill-thought-out" decision to reopen schools amidst the COVID-19 crisis, as new statistics from an NEU survey show that a large proportion of primary schools in the North West remain open only to children of key workers.

In the North West, 64% of primary schools remain closed to all except the children of key workers, despite the Government's attempt to reopen schools to more year groups at the start of this week.

The Liberal Democrats are calling on Ministers to ensure that parents, teachers, headteachers and governors are fully prepared for a phased return and have the support they need to reopen safely, taking into account specific school contexts.

To help facilitate social distancing, the Liberal Democrats have put forward plans for the creation of "spare space registers" at a local level, which would open up office space, community halls, sports-grounds and more to allow schools space for social distancing, with the Government stepping in to cover associated costs.

John Skipworth, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Wigan & Makerfield said:

"It's no surprise that the majority of primary school headteachers and governors in the North West have not yet been able to open their doors to more pupils, given confusion around the Government guidelines and the immense challenges social-distancing presents in many school contexts.

"The vast majority of people in Wigan & Makerfield want to see pupils back in the classroom, but safety is paramount. Where it's been possible, many teachers, headteachers and governors have bent over backwards to safely reopen to some year groups. However, not all schools have the facilities or means to do so - the Government must recognise that no two schools are alike.

"Ministers must also learn from this that schools must have more time to prepare for future changes. Ministers must ensure all schools have greater support if they choose to move towards the next phase of reopening."

Sharron Honey, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Leigh added:

"It is imperative that we get current Year 10 and 12 back into high school/sixth form as next year they have important exams. If schools are remaining closed to most pupils past September will there be guidelines for how much time to be spent per day on school work?

At the moment all schools are completely different in their approach, we need some standardisation guided by safety as the foremost priority.

Further to this, what about the SEN children and pupils with individualised education plans? Their return to school is much more complex as all needs to be met. Schools will need more than 2 weeks notice to get back into school."

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, said:

"The rushed move to reopen schools without the full backing of unions, or real clarity around the scientific guidance governing this decision, was ill-thought-out. It has created a real crisis for many headteachers and governors.

"The current situation, with so many schools yet to open their doors, is a product of the Government's dismissive approach towards the education sector during this crisis, its failure to communicate effectively with key stakeholders, and it's failure to fully take account of the wildly different school contexts that exist across England.

"With inadequate support for schools attempting to overcome huge logistical challenges, and real concerns about the premature easing of lockdown, it's no wonder that many school leaders have had no choice but to keep their doors closed a while longer.

"Ministers must take a more constructive approach going forward to put this right and ensure every child can get back to school safely."

A disgruntled Primary School teacher in Wigan, who has asked to remain anonymous, added:

"I understand that the Government's advice was vague due to the need for it be 'blanket' advice covering all areas and regions of the country with varying infection rates etc... but I feel that there should have been more consistent guidance from each Local Authority Council. Wigan Council chose to 'sit on the fence' and basically say 'it's up to individual schools' whether or not, or when schools reopened. Meaning an immense amount of pressure was put onto the senior management team of all schools across the borough, with very little support.

I feel that the Wigan Council should have taken accountability like Bolton and Lancashire have, and made the decision for schools. All schools in Wigan are doing different things regarding the the closures/potential reopening of schools. Complete lack of consistency across the borough means that a confusing situation has become even more confusing.

Many teachers at my school have children who are also pupils at various Wigan schools - some went back to school on the 1st, some the 8th and some 15th, some maybe not at all! To be blunt... it's a complete and utter shambles!"

All statistics used in this article are from National Education Union Fieldwork: 31 May 2020 - 1 June 2020
Staff from 10,953 mainstream state nursery, primary, primary deemed middle schools and all-through schools in England. Results have been de-duplicated by school.
For the information in full, visit https://neu.org.uk/press-releases/neu-survey-shows-realities-wider-opening