The Havering Labour Group want to see the COVID-19 pandemic defeated and for us all to return to the new normal as soon as possible, however, the primary consideration must be to save lives and keep people safe.
This week, parents have a very difficult task in making the judgment as to when their children should return to school. While Headteachers and School Governors are particularly concerned about how compliance with social distancing requirements will work, as the degree of risk and challenge varies depending on the design of each school. There are many other factors including the provision of personal protection equipment, infection control and cleaning to name a few.
So it is our view that parents should not feel pressured to return their children to school. We encourage them to confidently liaise with Head Teachers and School Governors before making any decision, this will allow them to carefully consider the risk assessments that are being carried out in their child’s school.
We should recognise that schools have been open throughout the lockdown supporting children of key workers and caring for the most vulnerable youngsters. We know that all teachers have the well being of their pupils as their paramount responsibility – and we praise them for their public service and commitment.
So as we move forward and are at the early stages of recovery, albeit that the risks of the virus returning in force must not be overlooked, caution and safeguarding must be of the highest priority. Key factors in this decision-making process include the size of classes [ maximum 15 per class] and importantly, organised dropping off and collection of children at school gates to facilitate compliance with social distancing requirements.
Some parents will decide to keep their children at home until they perceive a lower degree of risk. Such parents should not be fined for their child’s non attendance, nor should it be entered on their absentee record. Those children remaining at home during the phased opening should be supported by home learning packages, including online teaching which in our view can be assisted where possible by the council’s education department. Some progressive councils are supporting parents with the provision of devices so that children can access the virtual learning packages now available – Havering should consider such support.
Finally, more support should be given to those running nurseries and other “Early Years” settings. These, mainly small businesses, face some very difficult challenges and -do not appear to be receiving support from the government or Havering Council, yet they provide essential service benefitting young children and parents. Similar risks face this sector and whilst public attention is focused on the challenges facing schools we should not overlook nurseries and those who run them.