Suffolk’s Schools and the easing of lockdown

Having talked to local parents and teacher representatives, I and my group  have been raising  our concerns about  the  practicalities  and potential risks of lifting lockdown in Suffolk schools.

No schools are opening to all years and not  all schools are currently intending to open – however many are.

We wrote formally  with our concerns to Cabinet Member, Mary Evans*, and  were reassured by her fast reply stating  that:

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Suffolk County Council

  1. Reassures parents that they will not be fined if they choose not to send their child to school 
    Parents and councillors please pass this message on. It is important. If you feel your child/ren should stay at home, you should  follow your own instincts on this. Every family has its own personal circumstances.
  2.   Encourages both maintained and academy schools to undertake rigorous risk assessments before deciding to open to more children
    Cllr Evans tells us that this has been a central feature of helping schools to prepare to welcome more pupils. County has provided all school leaders with a detailed set of ‘Principles Guidance’ for re-opening and a detailed health and safety risk assessment template.
    (I have been assured by a local teacher that she found the risk assessment reassuringly robust.  However, there is a secondary issue, which is how  fully individual schools may stick to the assessment. Parents will need to check this out for themselves)
  3.  Provides guidance to parents on what support/equipment is available to them if their children continue to study from homeThis is down to each school, based on individual circumstances. It is mentioned on SCC’s website.

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My group also raised concerns about how fully the County Council’s intentions were understood by  parents . We were told

“Regarding your request that we communicate directly with parents, we communicate with parents through their school’s website. So we have supplied all schools with Adrian Orr’s letter and are now supplying all schools with a post to put on their websites linking to the relevant page on our website. With one click, parents can access the information. There is also a media and social media campaign underway to ensure that

  • parents are aware that our guiding principle is to keep children and school staff safe;
  • that parents will not be prosecuted or penalised for keeping their children at home;
  • that the information they need is on our website.”

Regarding academies, the trust boards for academies are the accountable body. However we were told that “throughout lockdown academies have worked extremely closely with  county and partners in the schools sector to manage the schools that are open for key worker and vulnerable children who have been attending school.

In the run up to 1 June, academies have also worked very closely with county’s  education and learning officers with many contributing to the creation of the Suffolk guidance and then using it!

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*   LDGI Group Letter to Cllr Mary Evans, SCC Cabinet Member for Education,
26 May 2020

Dear Cllr Evans,

Further opening of Suffolk schools

I am writing to you on behalf of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group with regards to the further opening of schools in Suffolk.

We would like to express our support for the NEU’s five tests that the Government should meet before moving to the further opening of schools. We believe that this is vital to ensure that schools do not become the new front-line.

We understand that Suffolk County Council are proposing to take a risk-averse, safety-first approach to the further opening of Suffolk schools, and we really applaud you on this.

However, from speaking with members of our communities, we feel that this message is not necessarily being understood by schools and parents, who are understandably nervous about the prospect of sending children back to school on 1 June.

We believe that Suffolk County Council should:

    • • Reassure parents that they will not be fined if they choose not to send their child to school;
    • • Encourage both maintained and academy schools to undertake rigorous risk assessments before deciding to open to more children; and
    • • Provide guidance to parents on what support/equipment is available to them if their children continue to study from home.

From your briefing email of 22 May, we understand that you are now communicating with schools (and with parents via schools) to provide them with more information about the process of reopening schools, including the points that we have mentioned above. Given that schools are under intense pressure at this time, we would urge you to also communicate directly with parents to ensure that clear and consistent information is provided to them.

Suffolk Care Home Outbreaks

EU compliant PPE sent as a gift to Woodbridge from friends in China. The world has worried about us

Suffolk’s LibDem, Green and Independent group have been  regularly quizzing those in charge of the County’s Social Care and Public Health about  the state of Suffolk care homes. We have been increasingly concerned  about the high proportion of Suffolk Care homes with Covid outbreaks (much higher than in Norfolk or Cambridgeshire).

I first raised the issue of peripatetic care staff back in mid-April.  Does county keep records of carers and other staff moving between different care locations?  My concern was that carers and support staff might unwittingly spread infection between these locations.  If you only test people with symptoms (and then only those in hospital), we were clearly likely to miss out on routes of transmission.
The answer? No records were kept:  that infection  control is managed best  through proper use of PPE . It was therefore more effective to monitor use of PPE rather than monitor staff movements, I was told.
But of course the advice to care homes  was to rely on handwashing and professionalism in most situations. Minimal  PPE was required, unless Covid-19 had been diagnosed.  And tests only happened in hospital. So what sort of answer was that?
Again – as with mask usage – it seems that there has been a desire at all levels to confuse the issue of infection and transmission –  and to assert that handwashing and professionalism  is  enough of a defence against coronavirus, no matter where peripatetic staff  may travel in the course of a day.
Now I do not question for one moment the professionalism. I absolutely believe in the handwashing. But there has been an abnormally high  level of outbreak in Suffolk care homes. Clearly we needed more.
Today my group has taken our outrage to the press:
 
“Failing to test patients being discharged from hospital, and then placing these patients into care homes, is irresponsible beyond belief. We are very concerned that this occurred in Suffolk, and that this seems to account for the much higher proportion of Suffolk care homes with outbreaks compared to Norfolk and Cambridge,.”
“Even if this was allowed by national policy, the CCGs did not themselves consider the risks to our care home residents. Their decision to block-book beds in care homes to facilitate the discharge of patients from hospital is equally to blame.
“Care homes have been the hidden crisis of this pandemic. It is shocking  that elderly care home residents, who are in the high-risk category and should have been fiercely protected by the authorities, have instead been exposed to the virus.
The risks to care homes were clear from countries like Italy, and yet this Government failed to learn from their experiences and instead put care homes directly into danger by allowing hospitals to discharge potentially infectious patients.”
In Suffolk we didn’t do nearly enough to stop this.

LibDems Greens and Independents slam the timing of ‘undemocratic’ Sizewell C consultation

Suffolk Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group Press Release

For immediate release: Wednesday 28 May 2020

LibDems Greens and Independents slam the timing of ‘undemocratic’ Sizewell C consultation

Suffolk LibDems Greens and Independents strongly criticise the timing of EDF’s application for a Development Consent Order to build a new nuclear power station at Sizewell.

Cllr Penny Otton, Leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group, said:

“We are adamant that no consultation can take place whilst the council and the public are still under strict coronavirus rules.

It must not be used as an excuse for EDF to try to sideline the democratic process .

We fully support the statement by the leaders of Suffolk and Norfolk county council in calling for the government to delay the process. The council and the public must feel that they have the most transparent and inclusive opportunities to be able to comment on this application – which will have a devastating and very long-lasting effect to a large swathe of East Suffolk.

As a group we will continue to fiercely oppose the building of Sizewell C . We strongly believe it would be a disaster for the local area, and have a lasting and adverse  impact on the surrounding Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on Suffolk businesses and the Suffolk tourism sector”.