Two Croydon primaries have been forced to postpone or alter plans for the return of pupils after members of staff tested positive for covid-19 in the past week, what was supposed to be the first full week of the new school year.
West Thornton Primary notified parents and guardians in a letter on Monday, barely 24 hours before many children were expected to return to one of the school’s two sites after the six-month coronavirus closure.
This followed Ridgeway Primary, in Sanderstead, having a member of staff test positive for covid-19 last Saturday, after having attended staff training during the preceding week.
There, after notifying parents and carers of the positive test, the school decided to go ahead with reopening as planned after undergoing a deep clean.
The school’s covid-19 safety assessment, which it had conducted itself, had found that it would be impossible for younger children to practise social distancing. “We recognise that younger children will not be able to maintain social distancing, and it is acceptable for them not to distance within their group,” the report said.
Ridgeway’s joint headteachers told parents that staff members who were in “direct contact or proximity contact” with the infected person would be self-isolating for 14 days. In a statement issued to parents, they said, “The school has been deep cleaned, opened as planned on Monday to children and remains open… If any staff or child show any symptoms they are asked to isolate and to get a test in line with government guidance.”
Croydon’s state schools had been allowed to conduct their own covid-19 safety assessments before the start of the school year, with little, if any, oversight from Croydon Council as the local education authority.
By Friday, the end of the first full week of the new term for schools in England, it was reckoned that there had been 543 UK schools affected by coronavirus, 342 of them in England. Across the UK, 518 pupils have been infected with covid-19 and 127 teachers or teaching assistants; 51 schools had reported multiple infections.
These figures could be underestimates, especially in London, where there is little available covid-19 testing.
West Thornton Primary operates across two sites, on Rosecroft Road and Canterbury Road. The school joined the Inspire academy trust in April 2020.
A notice on the school’s website, from Inspire’s chief executive, Rob Carpenter, says, “Due to a member of staff working at West Thornton Primary School (Rosecourt Road site) testing positively for coronavirus, we have had to delay the return of all pupils at Roescourt Road and pupils in Reception and Year 1 at Canterbury Road for two weeks until Monday 21st September 2020.
“Having taken advice from DfE and Public Health England, all staff at Rosecourt Road as well as the Reception and Year Two teams at Canterbury Road will self-isolate, for a period of 14 days from Friday 4th September to Sunday 20th September.
“Please be assured that during this period, we have organised deep cleaning so that when children to return, your child’s classroom and learning spaces will be safe and clean.
“I would like to reassure you all that we will continue to monitor the situation closely and follow all guidance from Public Health England and the local authority.”
Some parents of pupils attending the school had complained that during lockdown that West Thornton had provided little in the way of homework or remote learning for the children. Carpenter’s note this week promised that there would be home learning for pupils provided.
“We will continue to liaise with parents during the coming days. It is our strong desire to ensure we work closely with families so that pupils are both safe and provided with learning opportunities.”
The confirmed cases of covid-19 within these two school communities come as the “R number”, which measures the rate of infection across the country, is said to have reached 1.7 and the number of infection cases are doubling every eight days.
The government had said that children’s return to schools was dependent on the R number being below 1.0 and having a reliable and functioning track and trace system in operation – something which, six months after the pandemic was declared, is still not the case in Britain.
On Monday, the government is introducing new, stricter restrictions on gatherings in public places, with meetings limited to six people or fewer. The government has decided that this should not apply to schools.
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