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:
Suffolk County Council
- 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.
- 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)
- Provides guidance to parents on what support/equipment is available to them if their children continue to study from home. This is down to each school, based on individual circumstances. It is mentioned on SCC’s website.
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!
* 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.