Following the Prime Minister’s announcement that schools could begin to reopen from 1 June, the council has been working closely with schools and Trade Unions to understand how this should happen in Cumbria.
The Prime Minister said that from 1 June, children from Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 could begin going back to school. This is in addition to children from vulnerable groups and children of essential workers. Government has also asked secondary schools to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year.
Given the wide diversity of schools in Cumbria there will not be one single approach to reopening that applies to all schools. Instead, individual schools, and school clusters, will make their own decisions following a risk based assessment process. Support will continue to be available to schools from the council and from public health experts to complete this assessment.
This will enable schools to consider the potential risks and issues carefully before reaching a decision. This includes things like: how social distancing can be implemented, site safety, the availability of staff and resources, safe transport, emergency procedures and supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), mostly in the form of hand sanitiser, gloves and face masks
The council’s key message for parents is that there will be different arrangements in different areas and it is vital that they carefully read the communications from their child’s school about what is happening locally.
Cllr Sue Sanderson, Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning, said: “The council has worked closely with schools to provide support and guidance all the way through this situation and the approach to reopening builds on that good work.
“There is such wide variety in our schools in terms of their buildings and the communities they serve that it is sensible for each to make its own decision about reopening, supported by expert advice from the council and public health.
“We all agree that safety is the over-riding consideration for schools in their decision about how and when to reopen, and for which groups of pupils as specified by the Prime Minister.
“This means it is absolutely vital that parents and carers read the information provided to them by their child’s school very carefully to make sure they understand the arrangements in their area and to speak to their school if they are unsure. Schools will also need patience from parents, as they find a way forward that works for the school and all pupils.
“Cumbrian schools have been fantastic in rising to the challenge of COVID-19. The work that has gone on to ensure children’s education is continued and their welfare supported has been exceptional and I have no doubt this will continue as we move into this next stage.”
In a joint statement, Sue Blair, Chair of the Cumbria Primary Heads Association and Judith Schafer, Chair of the Cumbria Association of Secondary Headteachers, said:
“Since the end of March many schools have had to face unprecedented times dealing with the most significant public health crisis we have ever seen. It should come as no surprise to anyone who lives in Cumbria that the professionalism and dedication of school staff over the last few weeks has been outstanding in every way.
“We are reassured that the county council are supporting schools to find local solutions that are appropriate for their context, the needs of young people and their communities. The challenge for all schools will be to ensure the quality of education remains high within the constraints of risk assessments, including safe staffing levels and PPE.
“Please be assured that schools will continue to work tirelessly for young people and that we are reassured that Cumbria’s system leadership will continue provide the much needed support for us all.”