Councillor Alison Evans, Labour Group lead for Schools at South Gloucestershire Council is calling on the council to support the National Education Union’s (NEU) guidance on reopening our primary schools only when their five tests have been passed. Teachers, head teachers, support staff, parents and unions want schools to open when it is safe to do so.
Councillor Evans said: “The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, reassured parents and schools back in April that schools would only open when the scientific advice indicated that it was the right time to do so. Therefore, we need to see up-to-date scientific evidence, as new information and understanding of this novel virus is being discovered daily, and we need it to be reliable, peer-reviewed, and transparent. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also following scientific evidence, but theirs is indicating that it is not safe to open on June 1st. How can we be assured that it is safer for children to go to school in South Gloucestershire than in Wales, when it is less than 20 minutes between the nearest schools?”
Councillor Evans continued: “Ministers and the media have pointed to schools in Denmark as having opened successfully. This is welcome news to the teaching profession, and something we hope to emulate when the time is right. However, it is worth noting that Denmark has almost 34,000 fewer deaths than the UK, and just yesterday the UK recorded 545 deaths, which is only 6 less than Denmark’s total at 551 for the entire pandemic. Danish schools have also opened with 33% fewer children in each class than the current government guidance of 15 and they are adhering to strict social distancing measures to ensure that children and staff are kept as safe as possible. At the moment I would most definitely send my child to a school in Denmark and I believe that we can also make our schools as safe, but only at the right time.”
“It is worth noting that the British Medical Association (BMA) agrees with the NEU’s five tests and states that the scientific evidence of children’s infectivity is currently conflicting and needs to be studied more. Today, the BMA’s public health medicine committee chairman, Dr Peter English, stated that growing evidence showed that the risk to children was extremely small, but there was still no united view yet on whether children can spread COVID-19. He also restated that schools reopening should be dependent on scientific evidence – not arbitrary dates. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair of the BMA, stated today that the infection rate in the community needs to be low before schools can open, because if the infection rates are high, there could be a risk of a second spike.”
“One recent study published in JAMA Paediatrics states that ‘The idea that COVID-19 is sparing of young people is false’, and it goes on to conclude that children with underlying health conditions including obesity are at greater risk of severe disease. There have also been several reports both across the world and in the UK of a new Kawasaki like disease in countries with large outbreaks of coronavirus that has led to children being hospitalised in intensive care units. Surely the infectivity rate of school children and the prevalence of this new Kawasaki like disease in children needs to be studied further before the country with the second highest death toll in the world sends their youngest children back to school?”
“There have been concerns about the inequality in our country widening due to schools being closed for the last two months, and these are valid concerns. However, sending our reception, year one, and year six children back to school is not going to address this. Especially when the rest of the year groups will not then be receiving bespoke lessons from their class teachers, but will need to rely on the online resources from Oak Academy. The very online resources that the most disadvantaged children can’t access due to lack of resources and space. If this is truly the driving force behind the rush to open our schools, then when schools are safe to open to more pupils, it should be the 6,000 children living in poverty across South Gloucestershire that go back first.“
“As a councillor I want to see our council make the right decision for our children. We need to be sure that our ‘R’ rate is at a safe level and that we are confident that we can test, track and trace any potential infection thus ensuring that our students and school staff are as safe as they can be and that parents have complete faith in us to look after their most precious children.”
“Schools in France returned last week and as of today there have been 70 new COVID-19 cases associated with the wider opening of schools, and seven schools have had to shut their doors again. This is obviously very disruptive and distressing for those children, their families, staff and the wider community, and is something we don’t want to see in South Gloucestershire.”
“I am therefore urging the council to only keep schools open for the current key worker and vulnerable children, until the NEU’s five tests are met and it is safe to invite further children back.”
Councillor Evans is also a parent, teacher and school governor.
The NEU Five Tests can be found at: https://neu.org.uk/neu-five-tests-government-schools-can-re-open