Judi Billing, Leader of Herts Labour Group and Education Spokesperson, has written to Terry Douris, Executive Member for Education, Libraries and Localism, on the subject of re-opening Hertfordshire schools. Her full letter is reproduced below.
I am sending this to you as an open letter so that there can be no doubt about the concerns that I and the Labour Group have about the possibility of opening up our schools to many more children after June 1st when it is probably not safe to do so.
I read the County Council’s Press Release on 14 May with considerable alarm. I had received no briefing about its publication and was therefore unable to comment in advance.
I am especially concerned that you should say it is time for my constituents to “pay back” all the outstanding work that schools have been doing when I know that that is not the spirit of how this work has been done and that in most of our communities schools, parents and the local community have worked in absolute partnership to ensure the best possible outcomes in a time which has been frightening and unknown for us all.
Like most County Councillors I belong to the community I represent, have children and friends who are teachers and grandchildren who, in normal times go to local schools where they receive top quality teaching, learning and pastoral care.
But I also know a number of other things:
- The government advice on school opening changes, confusingly every day, including after this press release, when impossible demands were made of heads & teachers making flexible approaches and local discretion virtually impossible
- On Friday the National Education Union met with Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to hear about the science relating to children, schools and families and the likely spread that might occur. Those discussions were inconclusive, and are as yet unfinished. They were certainly not reassuring enough to be making blanket re-opening decisions
- On Friday the British Medical Association also expressed considerable misgivings about the inappropriately early return of too many children to schools
- On Friday we learnt that the R (reproduction) Rate was rising again and not falling, causing further concern about the Governments strategy to reduce lockdown constraints.
Most of our schools have remained open throughout this pandemic so far, providing marvellous care and learning to the children of key workers and the most vulnerable whose families agree to their attendance.
The distance learning and online opportunities they have provided have been absolutely staggering. Teachers have undertaken Zoom chats with their classes, and one to one consultations as well.
Vast numbers of parents have launched seriously & wholeheartedly into temporary Home Schooling.
But I really need you to understand that even those parents who have realised that teaching is certainly not their natural vocation are very worried indeed that their children may be encouraged or coerced back to school when it is not yet safe, and the evidence above certainly leads me to the view that it is too early for Hertfordshire to be assuming that government advice in this matter should be followed.
We have a vast range of school buildings – light airy new builds and ancient Victorian primary school buildings. We have some Junior schools where Year 6’s alone might be able to be managed through social distancing by teachers and teaching assistants anxious about them, themselves and their families, but we also have all through Infant/Junior schools where keeping Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 at the required distance will be excessively difficult. In nursery classes it will of course be entirely impossible to manage any level of social distancing.
Our school staff teams also face local and individual challenges related to those staff, such as pregnant women who may need to be shielded, those who need to self isolate or themselves become ill, and it is vital that those needs are respected without causing more danger or the potential exhaustion of their colleagues.
Local government is best placed to make the best local decisions about how to support the general population they serve, those who are particularly vulnerable through poverty, Special Educational Needs & Disabilities (SEND), or who are subject to the risk of Domestic Abuse, and the expertise of County Officers, Head teachers and school staff, our District Councils, the Police, Herts Fire & Rescue Service and the voluntary sector have done a fantastic job so far, individually and in solid partnerships.
I am therefore asking you, as a matter of absolute urgency to make clear that Hertfordshire will allow schools and parents to make the best possible local decisions for their circumstances and that no pressure will be put on schools to conform to government edicts, or parents to send their children to school if they are uncertain and frightened to do so. Poor Government decisions over the last 5 months have as we all know already led to many thousands of unnecessary deaths across the population. Please let us make better decisions locally.
Many thanks and best wishes
Leader of Herts Labour Group
Labour Education Spokesperson
Schools and parents should be allowed to make the best possible decisions for their circumstances Judi Billing