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St. Paul's Primary School, Barnet. Photo: Robin Sones

St. Paul's Primary School, Barnet. Photo: Robin Sones

This government are not to be trusted over their plans to reopen schools on June 1st, explains Jos Forester-Melville, a parent from the North East


The long days of lockdown have not been plain sailing in terms of home schooling. There have been squabbles, tightly closed curtains and curtailed Macbeth and maths, but we are not faltering in refusing to return them to school.

There’s no need for consultation. We are confident in the fact that we do not trust this government to make the considered decisions which will care for the two most precious people in our lives: our kids.

Current guidance still discourages us from taking our toddlers to Tesco’s where possible, so the new guidelines that children must be put back in primary on June 1st just doesn’t wash.

Our local primary is the oldest school in Newcastle with small-sized classrooms and narrow corridors. The playground is packed in the mornings with colliding kids on the best of days. The military precision required to police these little people in an enclosed building is a catastrophe waiting to happen for the poor staff who will be policing and not teaching.

With the highest R rate in the country, it is far too early for the North East in particular.  Being harried to move along at an unwelcome pace by the government is not conducive to the confidence-building we need at a time of national crisis. Nothing about this whole pandemic procedure has panned out how we wanted.  The staff and residents in care homes have already been thrown under a bus.  We’re not prepared to now be the testing ground for our kids to prop up the economy so the CEO of Pizza Express can get his dough proving again. 

In primary schools, the care and consideration afforded to our children under pre-pandemic circumstances was always applauded from our house.  Even now, we see them problem-solving and renegotiating to try and achieve the best outcomes.   But I cannot currently foresee a scenario where productive teaching is delivered without the fear of reception class coughing and cuddling their way through Jolly Phonics.

Is this venture not more than a childcare measure to get parents back to work in an attempt to place wealth before health? I can sit my kids at the kitchen table in the knowledge that their learning may be scant in comparison to the usual standards of school, but at least I know they and their teachers are safe.

In a climate where numerous councils across England are refusing to reopen schools more widely (as are the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, for that matter), we need to recognise that the risk is not even close to being eliminated.  In France this week, over 70 Covid-related cases were reported after a hasty return to normality in the playground.  In an environment where social distancing in busy shops can be difficult enough for adults, how can we expect five-year olds to adhere to it in a crowded classroom? It won’t happen. Teachers will be walking on eggshells.

And the office staff, teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors, the kitchen staff and the caretaker need to be taken care of too. Who are we to jeopardise their safety and the safety of others when there is currently no track and trace system in place?

The government must deliver a consistent, clear message without conflicting information or any backtracking.  We need robust information on how children will effectively be supported to socially distance between each other and staff in classrooms, corridors, toilets and yards.  We need to know what measures are in place to ensure the safe and efficient cleaning of classrooms, furniture and equipment to stop the spread of the virus.  Safe ways of dealing with personal care issues, medical or first aid procedures should be outlined.  There needs to be methods in place for dealing with children with complex emotional needs and others who need additional support.  Provisions should be made to efficiently address the necessity to keep key workers’ children safe.  Finally, as parents we need to feel our children will benefit more from the experience of being at school than the safety of the home.

Until these issues are properly addressed, we will be keeping our kids right in sight.

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