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.
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.
UPDATE: This was my response to the boundary commission on behalf of Woodbridge. I also responded more generally about East Suffolk . I am happy to share this on request:
Woodbridge is 12th largest town in Suffolk (2011 census). Its projected 2025 electorate is 6,610, which makes it the 3rd smallest division in terms of electoral size in East Suffolk (and the smallest one-member division). However, Woodbridge is the hub for all surrounding communities for health, education, shopping, travel, entertainment and socialising. It is a thriving market town with a living high street (8) railway station (9), good bus services, cinema, swimming pool and sports centre, two theatres, two secondary schools and three primary schools within the current 1 sq mile division boundary (plus Woodbridge Primary School, which is paradoxically outside the current division – see 7). Small and compact, Woodbridge is bounded by the A12 to the west, Martlesham Creek to the south, and the River Deben to the east. The county division has the ability to expand to the north (See 4). This makes best practical sense.
I suggest therefore expanding the Woodbridge division to the north into what is currently the Wickham county division (see 4), so that the new boundary takes in:
Woodbridge County Primary school (7),
all the housing developments coming off the north side of Pytches road where the division line goes down the centre of the road (meaning each side of the white line is the responsibility of a different county councillor)
the rest of Bredfield Road (the Woodbridge division currently stops at Warwick Avenue)
and the developments that come off Bredfield Road to the west (Bury Hill, Saxon Way).
It could/could not also include the new Longwood development at the top of Woods Lane which faces the end of Bredfield Road.(See 2)
I also suggest that the northern boundary is extended into Melton Parish at the bottom of Pyches Road (See 3 )
to include the rest of Melton Hill and the (new, existing and proposed) housing on both sides of Melton Hill and Melton Road to the north of Woodbridge as far as Melton Playing Fields.
Practical sense: Wickham – the adjacent county division to the north of Woodbridge is predicted to be 15% over an optimum average. Woodbridge is predicted to be 16% under. Altering this boundary could solve the problem simply and effectively. Please note: Some misguided, and poorly informed individuals have failed to recognise the issue is whether residents identify with Woodbridge or Wickham Market. Parish boundaries do not come into it. Whatever the county boundary outcome, Melton residents will remain in Melton just as the Martlesham Parish residents who are already in Woodbridge County Council division will still remain in Martlesham Parish.
This area designated is substantially new development immediately adjacent to the rest of Woodbridge town. It is not close to Wickham Market. The residents shop in the thriving Woodbridge Thoroughfare(8), they use the Woodbridge doctors’ surgeries (rather than Wickham Market (5) ), the Woodbridge rather than Wickham Market library (5), the Woodbridge (5) (rather than Melton (6) ) station, the Woodbridge bus services, the Woodbridge schools, the Woodbridge leisure facilities, they belong to Woodbridge community groups etc. etc. They can walk or cycle into Woodbridge within minutes. It is 5 miles from Pyches Road to the Wickham Market shops and services (5).
Local residents are affected by what happens in Woodbridge far more immediately than by what happens in the Wickham division. It would make more practical sense for them to be able to vote for a Woodbridge-specific representative in terms of roads, education, transport, public health etc
Because the county division boundary to the north of Woodbridge is literally down the middle of Pyches Road, and county is the highways authority, there is an anomalous break in continuity regarding highways. For example, Woodbridge has a Joint Highways working arrangement with county, but the area to the north of Pyches Road (C) has to be excluded as it is not Woodbridge division. No Woodbridge-designed road programme, or scheme can include this area. Residents are often bemused by this.
Woodbridge County Primary School is situated to the north of Pytches Road and is therefore not currently in Woodbridge division (although its catchment population is). This causes issues about road safety etc. For any road related schemes at county level – traffic calming for example – it makes proposals more logical and viable if they can be presented and supported by a single county division. The new proposed division would cover a contiguous area of linked residential roads to the benefit of the electorate.
Secondly, it would be logical to:
extend the southern boundary of the Woodbridge division (where it abuts the Martlesham division) so that the rest of Sandy Lane and all of Top street are added to the Woodbridge division. The division would therefore finish at the the point the River Finn crosses under The Street, Martlesham, just before the Red Lion pub crossroads.
Rationale: There are very few residents affected, but those who are, have an affinity to Woodbridge. For traffic planning purposes and for any housing development-related proposals, it would make it easier to represent the needs of the community which travels into Woodbridge as its local hub
Woodbridge county council division to get new boundary: and YOU can help choose
Seemingly the Boundary Commission “is minded to recommend that Suffolk County Council should have 70 councillors”, instead of the current 75 (this with me working 100 hour weeks already. Sigh).
More reasonably, they also want to redraw the councillor boundaries to have more equal numbers of residents per division, and potentially get rid of 2-member divisions.
The Commission is asking both local councils and the public to help decide where the new boundaries should be.
Our Woodbridge division has to change to increase the number of persons included . If nobody contacts, the commission will redraw the boundary to its own thoughts – which they admit can have no local knowledge of or understanding of local linkings.
Woodbridge division needs, ideally to acquire an extra 1600 -1800 people within its county council boundary. (This has no effect on existing parish boundaries. Eg the current Woodbridge division already contains some of Martlesham Parish) While the east, west and south boundaries of the Woodbridge division have a clear rationale, currently its northern border with Melton is confusing.
My personal view is that it would seem sensible for both sides of Pyches Road, the Woodbridge Primary school, developments like Bury Hill and Saxon Way, and all (rather than some ) of Bredfield Rd to be included in the county boundary. It is an area which is in the Parish of Melton – but which thinks of itself as Woodbridge and uses Woodbridge shops and services and whose roads are wholly interlinked. It makes sense for it to be in the Woodbridge county boundary rather than the neighbouring division of Wickham. This would enable eg roads and schools to be administered together. Currently the county boundary is the broken line down the middle of Pyches Road – separating Woodbridge even from its own primary school.
and you can add your views. If you support this idea, which would turn this necessity into a benefit to residents, or indeed have other ideas, do add your voice to the consultation.
If nobody contacts the commission, it will redraw the boundary to its own thoughts – which the Commission freely admits are based on having no local knowledge or understanding of local linking. Your input is therefore crucial.
Note: There is nothing explicit to say that submissions have to be based on a council size of 70, but anyone making a submission on any other council size would have to put forward strong supporting arguments to justify this. This would likely need to be linked to the practical impact of division patterns. The Commission also has the right to “adjust by one or two” the council size it has proposed, if this adjustment fits its preferred pattern of divisions. This would be reflected in the next stage of the process, when draft recommendations are published and consulted on.
Submissions should address the following three factors, and must be backed up with evidence and examples. These are statutory criteria that the Boundary Commission must consider, and all three will be given equal weight.
The new boundaries should leave each councillor representing roughly the same number of voters across the county.
The data to use for this is the 2025 forecast electorate (592,066), which gives an average electorate per councillor of 8458 (assuming 70 councillors). If the submission is based on a different council size, then obviously the average electorate per councillor will need to be adjusted to reflect this.
In general, the Commission will accept variances from the average number of electors per councillor of up to +/- 5%. Anything over that may be questioned and may require justification.
The boundaries should, as far as possible, reflect community interests/identities. This must be evidence-based and cannot just be asserted.
Issues to consider include: transport and communication links within the proposed division; community groups or local organisations that represent the area; facilities, such as where people go for shopping, medical services and leisure facilities; identifiable boundaries, such as rivers, woodland, roads or railway lines; parish boundaries; shared interests or concerns within the community, which aren’t relevant to neighbouring areas.
Effective and convenient local government
Issues to consider include the number of councillors per division, the geographic size of divisions, and the relationship with district boundaries.
The Commission has confirmed that it will attempt to draw-up a pattern of single-member divisions for Suffolk. There are seven two-member divisions in East Suffolk:
Kesgrave and Rushmere St Andrew
Legally the electoral divisions must be wholly contained within a district: a division can never straddle two district councils. (It can of course straddle parish councils: the Woodbridge county division has long contained a section of the Martlesham parish council.) While the new division boundaries should try to match district ward boundaries as far as possible, there is no requirement for them to be coterminous.
To help with submissions, you can download the “Electorate Proforma” for Suffolk from https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/eastern/suffolk/suffolk-county-council-0. (Via the link on that page under Further Information, which says ( 2) Division Arrangements Consultation). You will need to amend the “Number of Councillors” figure at the top right to reflect the council size you are working with (e.g. 70 councillors). This will then show which divisions are forecasting a variance from the average electorate per councillor in 2025
Caroline Page, LibDem County Councillor for Woodbridge