The continued spread of COVID-19 poses serious challenges to schools, colleges, childcare and social care providers. Labour members of Stafford Borough Council are concerned about the nationwide re-opening of Schools on June 1st. Particularly given questions and concerns raised by The National Education Union, The General, Municipal Boilermakers Union, Unite and Unison.
These unions, supported by The British Medical Association, have asked that Government publishes the evidence and modelling used to determine that it is safe re-opening schools across the nation on June 1st. With no answers forthcoming from Government, Labour's Stafford Borough Councillors wrote to the leader of Staffordshire County Council, Conservative Councillor Philip Atkins:
Dear Councillor Atkins,
We are writing to seek more clarification on the council's position on the safe reopening of schools.
The Government has thus far been unable to provide evidence to support its assertion that schools can safely open further for some primary aged students from 1 June, and for even more primary and secondary students by the end of the summer term. Their policy threatens to add to the disproportionate impact of the current pandemic on working class people, especially those who are poorer, older or from Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities.
In light of this, the council should support the joint guidance put forward by the NEU, the GMB, Unite and Unison, and supported by the BMA, and to resist the Government's attempt at the wider re-opening of schools until it is demonstrably safe to do so.
The LGA has stressed the importance of predicating any reopening on scientific evidence, and Liverpool City Council, North of Tyne Council and Haringey Council are just a few of the numerous councils around the country which over the past few days have publicly voiced their concerns about the further reopening of schools. This comes after over 1,000 councillors signed the NEU Councillors Network open letter to the education secretary calling on schools to reopen when it is safe to do so. We believe that we should join in with other councils in doing so.
Properly funded, decent education accessible to all ought to be at the heart of everything we do. Returning to school is vital for young people, especially for those of our students who are less advantaged. It is not, however, acceptable to sacrifice the welfare of young people, educators, their friends and families, and the wider community.
Everyone looks forward to when all schools can be safely reopened. However, until then, the safety of our young people and the wider community should be paramount.
Yours sincerely, Stafford Labour Group
Councillor Atkins, by way of reply, did not acknowledge the suggestion that Staffordshire County Council should resist Government attempts to re-open schools until it is demonstrably safe and referred Labour Borough Councillors to a lightweight "principles" document. The only firm measures in this document were "Staggered starts and ends to the day to support social distancing" and "Minimising the number of pupils that each staff member has contact with". The remainder of the guidance sent in response includes very soft measures and refers to Government Guidance suggesting that the "majority of staff in education settings will not require PPE beyond what they would normally need for their work, even if they are not always able to maintain a distance of 2 metres from others."
There are no quotas, targets, indicators, thresholds or contingency. It seems that decisions about the welfare of teachers, support staff and children are being left to individual schools with minimal guidance.
At the time of writing, the Government document advising schools about protective measures in education and childcare settings is still awaiting an update to reflect the announcement on May 24th that schools, colleges and nurseries will re-open on June 1st - now less than a week away.