Cheshire West and Chester Council is working with schools across the borough to develop plans for the possible inclusion of early years, year 1 and year 6 children from June, when and if it is safe to do so. Headteachers will consider the best approach for their own schools. Whether their decision is to safely reopen as an educational setting for some pupils from 1 June, or to open more slowly according to their specific circumstances, the Council will support them.
This follows a Department for Education (DfE) announcement that these year groups in England may be able to return to school provided that the governments five key tests are met over the next two weeks.
The Council has been working with local Headteacher Associations to plan for a phased reopening of schools for pupils in nursery, reception, year one and year six of primary schools first. This is alongside the existing arrangements, where schools have remained open to provide care to children from priority groups since schools officially closed as education settings on the 23 March 2020.
Alongside the guidance issued by the DfE, the Council has provided risk assessment and public health advice to support schools to come to the right decision for their communities. Schools all have very different circumstances and challenges. The Council will support head teachers’ judgements as they decide on all appropriate and reasonable measures to keep children and staff safe, and how they will manage the reopening of their school for specific year groups.
Schools will communicate directly with parents, carers and other stakeholders of their decision and what the plan will be for their school.
Secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges have been asked by the government to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.
Councillor Bob Cernik, Cabinet Member for Children and Families said: “I understand in these difficult times that many people feel 1 June is just too soon to expand the number of children in attendance at school. This is for a variety of reasons including variations in infection rates across the country; school geography/layout; safe school transport availability; the ability to maintain social distancing with youngsters; staff availability and staff logistics.
“That is why we have sent out risk assessment information to complement the work already undertaken by head teachers and governors to assist their decision on whether or not to expand the school cohort from 1 June. In some cases, I understand this may not be possible. I would like to assure all parents and pupils, head teachers, governing bodies, and teaching staff that your own school's individual risk assessments and national guidance will be supported by the Council. Your safety and wellbeing comes before any other consideration.”
Simon Kidwell, Headteacher at Hartford Manor Primary School and Nursery said: “Since schools across England closed on the 20 March 2020, we have been working closely with our parents, school staff and the Local Authority. Hartford Manor Primary School and Nursery, and schools across the Borough, have been able to offer school places for our key workers and vulnerable children. Schools have remained open over the school holidays and bank holiday weekends, with many offering extended wrap-around care for our key workers.
“As the Government moves towards reopening schools using a phased approach it is clear that a number of parents are still anxious about sending their children to school. Schools and the Local Authority are working at speed to develop risk assessments and implement measures to reduce the risks for their children, their families and their staff. The school teaching unions, the local authority, and school leaders are working together to take the appropriate actions to safely open our schools at the earliest possible date.”
The safety of children and young people in the borough is a priority for the Council and the Council’s education team will continue to monitor the situation closely.