By Rashleigh MacFarlane
Parents across Cornwall are being urged to check with their children’s school as the debate about reopening continues in government. With fewer than 14 hours before schools are due to open, Cornwall Council has said it does not know which will have enough staff to do so safely.
Primary schools are set to restart lessons this week, with secondaries opening to vulnerable children and to children of key workers only. Prime Minister Boris Johnson today (Sunday) repeated his view that schools should reopen tomorrow while Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for an immediate full national lockdown.
The confusion means that many parents will inevitably make their own judgements about how to keep their children safe. At least one primary school - Callington - has said it cannot reopen tomorrow as planned.
Infection rates in Cornwall have been spiralling out of control since the last lockdown was lifted on 4th December. The rate of infection among children aged up to 14 has increased particularly sharply. Teaching unions are advising their members not to attend school tomorrow if they feel unsafe.
The council’s cabinet member for children and public health, councillor Sally Hawken, has said: “Attending school has huge value for children for their learning and wellbeing. All teachers know this and have worked incredibly hard to make this possible since September. We all agree that the commitment for schools should be that they are the last to close and first to open.
“The dedication of school staff to children’s welfare and managing the constant change continues to be humbling. I cannot thank the school family enough. The level of uncertainty and change for everyone through the pandemic has been huge and takes its toll on mental health and I am concerned today that the resilience of teachers is under threat. It is time for Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education to acknowledge that: to stop and listen.”
Ms Hawken continued: “Opportunity for testing in secondary schools is very welcome but that’s no small task logistically and it is important parents know that and appreciate the challenge schools face implementing these procedures.
“Alongside that we’ve seen a bewildering array of new directives over the last week. Since the announcement about
a staggered return, there have been several changes to expectations for Heads to work through during what I’d hoped was their opportunity to take a precious break and recharge.
“Teaching unions are calling for primary staff to support remote learning except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children for the first weeks back. Today that means many primary Heads are assessing if they will have the staff to be able to open their schools tomorrow.”
The latest data for Cornwall has shown a dramatic increase in the number of confirmed cases and it is expected that the rate will continue to rise in the coming weeks, after the short relaxation of rules for Christmas.
The 7-day average is now 176.3 per 100k, with cases doubling in the past 7 days. Amongst school age children (0-14 years) the rate of infections has risen from 42 per 100k to 114 per 100k in 7 days up to 30th December.
Ms Hawken concluded: “I support those who choose to notify of a school closure today to take stock and assess the latest public health position for Cornwall. It is crucial we are able to accommodate in school the children of key workers and those who are vulnerable and I’m sure schools will be looking to make that happen smoothly and as a top priority.
“The situation will be kept under constant review and the council education and public health teams will maintain contact to support schools in their decision making over the coming days.”