The Wokingham Paper

Safety may delay school open date

Pupils’ wellbeing comes ahead of lessons warns leader

NOT ALL schools in the borough will reopen after half-term, despite Government plans to allow pupils back into classrooms.

Wokingham Borough Council’s leader, John Halsall, has warned that safety and wellbeing of children comes above reopening from Monday, June 1.

And while he wanted to see youngsters return to their lessons, he vowed that schools that decided not to open would get the backing of the council.

In a statement, Cllr Halsall said: “Wokingham Borough Council recognises the Government announcement regarding schools re-opening at the earliest from Monday, June 1, and are working to support schools in their planning for the return of children to their settings.

“We wholly support the benefits of children re-engaging with learning, and are also minded to the safety and wellbeing of all of our Wokingham learners.

“We continue to work with all schools and academies in the borough, and will support each governing body or trust to make decisions that are appropriate to their school and school community to ensure the safe return of children, young people and teaching staff.

“This may mean that for some schools children will not return on Monday, June 1, but will return when the schools risk assessments and plans determine it is right and safe for them to do so.”

The statement notes that: “This will not affect the eligible children that have been continuing to attend schools since school closures on Friday, March 20.”

The leader of the Labour group in Wokingham Borough Council said that safety must come first as more children return to school.

Cllr Andy Croy said: “Wokingham’s schools have never closed. Teachers and school staff have been providing in-school education for key workers and vulnerable children all through the crisis as well as supporting children at home.

“Many teachers have not had a break as schools stayed open through the holidays.

“Everyone, especially teachers, want all children back in school but only when it is safe to do so.

“It must be safe for children, teachers and staff and everyone’s household.

“The guidance provided by the government has not been helpful,” he added.

“They have tried to rush school heads into increasing attendance by creating an artificial deadline of Monday, June 1 while at the same time providing guidance which simply does not work in the real world.

“As it is just guidance and not statutory, it is right that heads and teachers assess their own situation and do as they think fit and not be bound by a Government which has already made far too many mistakes.

“The expectation set by the Government is also unfair on parents and children.

“The guidance is clear that this is the earliest schools can open. It is fine for schools to open later — safety must come first.

“Wokingham Borough is right to reject the unworkable and dangerous demands of the Government even if they are shy about saying so.”

Cllr Croy added: “What is deeply worrying is that by the end of June the Government expects all primary children to be back at school. Social distancing and the government guidance issued to schools are simply incompatible.

“Again, unreasonable pressure is being put on our heads and teachers.

“In this context, Monday, June 1, is the thin end of the wedge to pressure schools into having all children back on site — with the risks of Covid-19 infection rates increasing in the community.”

And the deputy leader of the Wokingham Liberal Democrats is concerned that there will not be enough teachers to support the children going to school.

Cllr Clive Jones said: “The main issue is relating to class sizes — now referred to as bubbles — that should only be 15 children.

“That works fine for reception, and year 1 and 6, but how can the rest of the children return when there won’t be enough staff?

“There are not enough teachers, and that will not be good for children. They need confidence from someone they know.

“So bringing in more supply teachers — if there are even enough — may cause additional problems.

Cllr Jones added: “We support the council in working with schools and governing bodies to get a safe opening of schools for staff and children.

“But the Government needs to work out what incentive they will offer for retired teachers to return to work, this shouldn’t be left to the local authority.”

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