Responding to reports from the County Council Cabinet Member that it would be down to schools to decide whether or not to close, Cllr Colin Hay responded calling for more clarity and less vagueness.
The email thread is attached below:
Thank you for your email this morning. As you will be aware, many Lib Dem councillors have recently been contacted by worried parents and teachers, concerned by the return of primary school students today, and the partial reopening of secondary schools. You’ll similarly aware of the announcements by the teaching unions and medical professionals warning against the reopening of schools. At the same time, however, we are keenly aware that some parents are relying on schools to open / stay open to allow them to continue with work or caring commitments.
The one thing which is universal between all groups is the need for clarity and advanced warning before any changes, in order that they can arrange childcare or advise their employers of the change of circumstance. I’m afraid, what isn’t helpful is the vagaries offered in your email below – indeed, while it is presented as an opportunity to explain what the County Council’s position is, I can’t see a single commitment and little clarification. As such, I hope you can help parents and schools further by explaining:
- While it’s reassuring to know that Gloucestershire’s per 100,000 rate is below the national average, is there a point whereby you would support a closure of schools in the county?
- While our average rate is below England’s, there are clearly wide variants within the county. Gloucester, for example, is nearly on par with the national average and the Forest of Dean is not far behind. Is there a point when you would support district-level closures to prevent transmission in those areas with high caseloads?
- What conversations has GCC had with Government advisers or Public Health England officials? Does your administration, and senior officers within GCC, have a position on whether it is safe for schools to reopen as proposed by the Government?
- Your reference to GCC supporting a decision “if it were on the grounds of health and safety” is very unclear. What would be covered in that; is it just staff sickness rates or does it include a rising caseload?
- What is GCC doing to help schools with the revised risk assessments. What is the change of guidance with the new variant?
Lastly – you’ll be aware that Nicola Sturgeon has just announced a full lockdown for the whole of January – including schools and colleges. Can you confirm whether you would support a similar move in England based on current figures?
I would be very grateful if you could provide an answer to these questions at your earliest convenience. Please be aware that I will be sharing this email with concerned residents, and I will be sure to similarly share your response.
Cllr Colin Hay
From: MOLYNEUX, Cllr Patrick
Sent: 04 January 2021 11:37
You may well have been in discussion with local schools about the Covid -19 situation and be wondering what our position as a Council is with regards to the advice that we are offering schools. I hope the following is helpful;
1: Secondary Schools will be open tomorrow 4th January for vulnerable children and children of key workers only. The remaining children in years 7 -13 will have access to remote learning.
From the 11th January secondary schools will offer Face to Face learning for examination year groups 11 and 13 these are the GCSE and A’ Level groups. The remaining year groups will continue to have a remote learning offer. There will be a full re-opening of secondary schools from the 18th January.
2: The current situation with Primary schools is that the DfE and Government expect they should re-open to all pupils tomorrow 4th January. There has been a lot of media interest in the position of the Unions who are stating that unless it is safe to do so schools should not re-open. Staff have been in contact with schools today (Sunday) through the Primary head teacher association and there is a presumption that the vast majority of primary schools will open. There may be a small number of schools where the level of staff sickness is so high that it is not safe to open on health and safety grounds.
3: I have circulated the infection rates to schools to reassure them about the risks. They are as follows as of this morning:
England Average 422/100,000
London Average 831/100,000
Gloucestershire average 225/100,000
4: Schools have been advised that they need to review their risk assessments in the light of the new strain of Covid-19.
5: Ultimately the decision to close a school is a local decision for the head teacher and the governing body and GCC would support that decision if it were on the grounds of health and safety.”
6: This is a very fluid situation which is changing all the time but the above is our position at the time of writing this short Member briefing.