TRUST YOUR teachers, they’re professionals. That’s the view of Wokingham Labour leader, Andy Croy, who wants to see safe education for all.
He was responding to national parent pressure group, Boycott Return To Unsafe Schools (BRTUS), which believes that wider reopening of schools is currently unsafe for children, adults, and communities.
But Cllr Croy said he wants the borough council to support the plans put forward by each school.
He told Wokingham.Today: “We have a moral duty to get kids back to school, but we also have a moral duty to keep students, teachers and staff safe as well.
“Heads, teachers and governors are working their butts off to make schools safe. We need to support the headteachers in their decisions — they’re the professionals.”
Before the summer holidays, the borough council said it would support headteachers in their decision to reopen or remain closed.
Classroom bubbles and staggered start times
Now, Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services at Wokingham Borough Council, said schools will reopen with classroom bubbles and staggered start times, in line with Public Health England guidance.
But, when it comes to the finer detail, each school may put in place a different plan that works for them.
Cllr Croy added: “We must back the heads in whatever decision they come to. It might be we move forward with mixed teaching, some online, some in classrooms — it’ll look different to previous years.”
Cllr Clark added: “I commend all the staff involved at schools across for the mammoth effort they’ve made to ensure they’re ready to open their doors in September.
“Getting children back into school is absolutely vital to getting them the education they need and deserve.
“We know how important it is to take every step we can to keep the borough’s young people safe, while being back at school, and these measures have been put in place at every school in our borough.”
‘I would rather home-school my daughter than send her back’
But an Arborfield parent has said she would rather homeschool her daughter than send her into secondary school for the first time.
Penelope Mullet, whose daughter is due to start Bohunt School next month, supports the concerns of BRTUS.
She told Wokingham.Today: “My daughter was premature and has problems with her lungs.
Her asthma is often triggered by all of the winter bugs. Because Bohunt students use iPads, the staff said they would consider letting her work from home — but would first need a letter from the NHS confirming that.
“We sent them the letter but now the school is backpedaling, saying if she’s not there on September 2, she loses her place.”
But Bohunt School said it will make special arrangements for students with specific medical needs.
Ms Mullet added: “I don’t feel it’s safe for her to return, we’re still learning about this virus. In secondary schools pupils study in enclosed spaces, move around through busy corridors, and share toilets.
“I think she will have a better quality education at home, with one-on-one learning. If I have to homeschool her, that’s what I’ll do.
“It’s a big decision and I’m not taking education lightly. I would rather pay a fine or go to court than send her back to school.”
Ben Godber from Bohunt School said he was unsure who had told Ms Mullet her daughter must attend on September 2.
He told Wokingham.Today: “The school routinely evaluates children’s education plans where there are specific medical and, or individual needs and this applies even more so in the current climate.
“Periodically in unusual cases we make arrangements for adjustments to learning programmes where specialist advice makes recommendations to this effect, as part of a re-engagement process into school based learning.”
Mr Godber added: “The multi-academy trust has produced a detailed risk assessment for the full reopening arrangements of its schools in a Covid secure manner, which is published on the website and modified as necessary to fit the context here at Bohunt Wokingham.
“Within this we include the need to carefully risk assess staff and students who are directly classed as extremely clinically vulnerable or in family settings where this applies.”
‘Let’s have a phased return, some days at school, other days at home’
Cllr Prue Bray, Liberal Democrat lead for children’s services said the best approach would be a phased return to school, with limited students onsite each day.
She told Wokingham.Today: “The guidance on how schools should operate changes daily, and schools are doing everything they can to make it safe.
“It would be better to take a part-time approach, some days in school other days studying at home virtually, with set work.
“That way they’re not all onsite at the same time.”
Cllr Bray added: “Lots of schools have made great progress with e-learning. But we have to remember, some children don’t have access to the technology.
“This should spur on the Government to close the digital divide. We cannot have children with no access to technology or the internet in 2020.”
Cllr Bray said she sympathises with children and parents who are going through a difficult time at the moment.
“I worry about the impact this is having on children, not seeing their friends can affect their mental health,” she said. “And also on parents, who need to work and have no alternative child care.”
What about the fines?
Before the summer holidays, Wokingham Borough Council said it would not fine parents who choose to let their children continue studying at home.
Now, Cllr Clark said the council would take a compassionate approach to fines.
She said: “The Government expects all children to be back in school from the start of the autumn term. We know for some families there will be some anxiety about returning to school.
“We have been assured schools will be working closely with these families. The council will adopt a compassionate and pragmatic approach to work with families to ensure all children can make a full return to school.”
She did answer whether Wokingham Borough Council would be fining parents, or when fines might be reintroduced.