I have issued a statement on schools reopening, writes council leader Julian Bell.
Leader of the council, Councillor Julian Bell, said: “Keeping everyone safe throughout this pandemic remains the council’s top priority. The prime minister announced that from 1 June some year groups will be able to return to school – they include nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6.
“Ealing schools should only open to more pupils when they are ready to do so. Our advice to schools continues to be that they shouldn’t reopen to meet an arbitrary deadline. We have been having productive conversations with schools about phased return of these year groups during the first few weeks of June. We don’t expect the majority of our schools to return before 15 June.
“To ensure that our youngest residents and our teaching staff remain safe we have been working in partnership with school leaders, school staff, parents and trade unions.
“Each school is different; heads and governing bodies are best placed to know what measures are needed to be put in place to enable them to reopen safely. They know their pupils and staff and their personal circumstances. The government will confirm if its test to move to the next phase of easing lockdown, including the return of some pupils to school, have been met by the end of the month. The council has provided schools with guidance to assist schools in making decisions.
“Ealing is a richly diverse borough, this is one of our greatest strengths. A government study has found that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and have a higher risk of serious illness and death. We know that across all ethnic groups, older people are at greatest risk from this disease. Therefore, it is important to consider children and staff who live in intergenerational households and the possible impact on their loved ones, particularly if they are from a BAME background.
“Many people will have lost loved ones and will be cautious as lockdown eases. We fully understand and share parents and teachers’ concerns about the safe return to school for children and teachers. We want to do everything we can to support them. I can reassure parents that they won’t be fined if they choose not to send their children back to school at this time.
“We know that some of our teachers are shielding, older and from BAME communities and so risk assessments need to be carried out, some of these people will not be able to return to work straight away.
“Each school is carrying out a detailed risk assessment so that they know whether it is safe to open or not. Everyone knows it will be very difficult for social distancing to be observed by very small children which is why we can only teach these children in very small groups. This means fewer pupils can be taught per teacher.
Given this we don’t believe that the prime minister’s ambition to have the remaining year groups back at school by the end of July is realistic or safe.
“As the prime minister announced the easing of lockdown, we were told that the government’s track and trace system would soon be operational. It has yet to be rolled out, which compounds the difficulty in opening schools quickly. Track and trace information must be shared with councils and schools so we can act quickly to contain an outbreak if a pupil or member of staff get COVID-19.
“We all want children and young people back into education. It is the best place for them to learn and it is good for their mental wellbeing, general health and social skills. To combat inequality, it is even more important that children from less advantaged households who may not have access to computers and restricted home learning go back to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
“Our public health professionals are continually reviewing the most up to date data and have confirmed that our cautious phased approach is the right course of action. “Nearly all of our schools have remained open throughout the crisis so that key workers children and other eligible children have been able to stay in school. Our teachers are the best of the best and deserve thanks and recognition for everything they have been doing throughout this crisis. Whether they have been in the classroom or helping parents to support children to learn from home. I want to thank them and parents for everything they have done.
“Alongside Cllr Yvonne Johnson, I will be writing to all parents to set out our approach and provide the reassurance they need that the safety of their children is and will remain our top priority.
“We will continue to be in contact with the Department for Education, so they are aware of the issues affecting Ealing schools.
“I believe that a planned, cautious and robust evidence-based way out of lockdown is the right course of action for our schools.