Hertfordshire councillors react to decision to drop plans to fully reopen primary schools

Primary schools re-opened last week for pupils in reception, year one and year six

Friday, 12th June 2020, 9:18 am

The government had no alternative, but to roll back on plans for all primary age pupils to return to school before the summer, a leading Hertfordshire councillor has said.

Primary schools across the country were asked to re-open for pupils in reception classes, year one and year six last week (June 1).

And there had been plans for all other primary age children to return by the end of the summer term.

Schoool stock image

But on Tuesday (June 9) it was announced that the government had now dropped its plans for all primary age pupils to return.

Following the announcement, Cllr Terry Douris, executive member for education, libraries and localism at the county council, said he did not think the government had had any alternative.

“We understand the reasoning behind the change in the desire to open up primary schools for all pupils before the end of term,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“And I think that has come with the recognition that schools are lacking the physical space.”

Pointing to the need for social distancing, Cllr Douris says schools are having to split one class between two or more classrooms – leaving schools without the room to take in additional pupils.

However he says the Secretary of State made an ‘interesting and valid’ point about schools that did have the capacity welcoming additional children back – depending on the space available within the school.

Cllr Douris said: ” We want to do the best we can for our young people of all ages.

“We want to do the best in maintaining their education and their social behaviour, but we equally have to recognise the challenges we face in terms of social distancing.

“And the one thing we absolutely mustn’t do is to allow the pandemic to have a further peak.

“If we have to take this action to prevent a peak forming that’s what we must do for the benefit of the country.”

Leader of the county council’s Liberal Democrat group Cllr Stephen GIles-Medurst said it was a “sensible” decision that was “not unexpected”.

But he said he would have preferred the government not to have been so forceful in its initial plans.

He said it was sensible because of the low numbers of children returning to school – which he said was as low as 10 per cent in some schools.

And he said it would mean teachers were not put under additional pressure, a week after ‘re-opening’ to reception classes, year one and year six children.

Meanwhile leader of the county council’s Labour group Cllr Judi Billing said Labour councillors were “relieved” that the government had realised that the move wasn’t feasible.

In recent weeks she said she had asked the county council to allow decisions to be made locally – and for the views of the teaching union NEU and the doctors organisation BMA to be considered.

And following the government’s decision she called for the focus to turn to those children who needed support.

She said: “There are of course massive problems associated with a lack of formal education for our children, and especially those living in poverty, in danger or with special educational needs I would now urge the government and the county council to turn their attention to how those children can be supported as a matter of urgency.

“This will include ensuring that they have access to food, safeguarding care and the technology needed to enable them to participate in the home schooling that their teachers have been designing for them from the beginning of this dreadful pandemic.”

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