Croydon Council has left it to the individual boards of governors of the borough’s schools to decide on what measures they and their headteachers need to take to ensure that their schools are “covid-safe” for a return to the classroom this week.
Nearly six months since Croydon pupils were last able to attend lessons as normal, they will join with pupils across England in going back through the school gates, as the Dominic Cummings-led government tries to convince the nation that schoolchildren are somehow safe from catching coronavirus and incapable of spreading the virus to their teachers and other staff.
Teachers’ unions remain concerned, and are demanding the highest standards of social distancing, smaller classes and other measures in order to cope with the return, which NEU describes as “an enormously challenging task”.
In Scotland, where pupils returned last month, some schools have had to close again after outbreaks of the virus. In Dundee, one school had reported 40 cases of positive covid-19 – 23 staff members, three pupils and 14 community contacts. All staff and pupils have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days and the building will remain closed during that time.
Three other primary schools in the city have also reported covid-19 cases among pupils and staff.
There have also been reports of positive tests among pupils at three schools in Perth and four cases in Lanarkshire. There have been 16 confirmed cases at a Glasgow high school, while a primary school class and their teacher have also gone into quarantine.
The Scottish government says that these cases are part of community clusters which have had an impact on schools, rather than school-based clusters.
The NSPCC has issued its own guidelines and advice for concerned parents.
“Going back to school can be scary for children whatever their age and it can be an anxious time for parents, too,” says the charity’s Helen Westerman.
“School closures during the pandemic had meant that some children have not had the opportunity to visit their new schools and classes. Children may have questions and worries about going back to school during coronavirus and we’ve got advice to help.”
The charity has produced a checklist with some handy advice for parents and children about preparing for the new school year. The NSPCC offers further advice and help at www.nspcc.org.uk or for children at www.childline.org.uk.
In Croydon, the council issued its statement on the situation only on Friday, just before a Bank Holiday weekend, with barely a week before most children in the borough are due to return to school.
“We have been working with schools across Croydon to support them in their plans to welcome pupils back as safely as possible,” according to council leader Tony Newman.
“Headteachers have written to parents letting them know about the measures they have put in place to minimise the risk of covid-19 spreading and help protect pupils, staff and the wider community,” Newman said.
Among the measures introduced are weekly deep cleaning, socially distanced bubbles by year group, one-way systems in school buildings, staggered start and finish times to limit unnecessary contact, Personal Protective Equipment for staff and additional training days on the new arrangements.
“Schools are also encouraging pupils to work or cycle to school which not only reduces pressure on public transport but is also good for mental and physical health,” the council said in its press release.
But it has been left to the individual schools to ensure that they comply with government guidelines, with few, if any, checks being conducted by the local education authority, which for many of the borough’s schools continues to be the council.
While each school may have different circumstances determining how it implements the guidelines, the apparent lack of detailed supervision from the council might be a justifiable cause for concern, and certainly could give rise to safety standards being applied differently, depending on the school.
According to the council last week, “Each school has completed an updated covid-19 risk assessment that is first approved by their board of governors and then shared with the council.”
Note that: “shared“, not checked or approved.
As one teacher told Inside Croydon, “The council’s track record over children’s services would not inspire confidence. We know that schools in Croydon have immensely different levels of management, and differing budgets – because the way this is being done, parents and teachers will be wary that there will be different standards of covid safety standards at some schools.”
As the NEU says, the return to school will be “an enormously challenging task”.
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