Following ongoing concerns regarding the reopening of primary schools across England, councillor Keith Orrell, Executive Member for Children, Young People & Education, commented:
“We understand and share the concerns of parents and school staff over the lack of clarity that has come from the Government over the last couple of weeks. We all want children to be in school. It is acutely important for young people to access in-person education in a balanced, structured and safe environment, as the potential negative impact that a long period out of school would have on our young people and on closing the attainment gap cannot be underestimated.
“Time and time again, this Government has squandered opportunities to get ahead of the virus and left pupils, parents and teachers understandably anxious and confused. The Government has had to months to come up with a proper plan to keep schools open safely. Instead, the Conservative’s top-down attitude has once again led to last minute and inconsistent decisions that are causing unnecessary havoc in people’s lives.
“It is important to recognise that City of York Council does not have powers to enforce a blanket closure of all schools, only the Government is currently able to make an order to this effect. In line with government guidance, the Council is continuing to work with all schools through the York Schools and Academies Board (YSAB) to put in place all necessary measures to prevent the spread of infection so that schools remain a safe environment for pupils and staff. York's teachers and school staff continue to do a fantastic job in incredibly difficult and unusual circumstances, prioritising the health, safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff, and we are incredibly proud of the support that they continue to give pupils.
“We have seen York follow the national pattern with infection rates soaring in recent weeks. Our NHS is being put under strain and this is why we are lobbying the Departments for Education and Health and Social Care, asking them to reconsider their current national guidance to local authorities and schools (which would include temporary, short-term school closures). This should take place in advance of any further changes in national restrictions that now look increasingly likely to occur, due to the Government’s failure to respond effectively to the virus.
“More broadly, we are urging the Government to give local authorities and local Public Health and Children’s Directors the decision-making powers to be able to act to protect the local communities they serve. The Government must now urgently deliver on their promises of additional financial support to support those pupils falling behind as well as to implement the necessary safety and testing systems, together with exploring the possibility to prioritise the vaccination of school staff to ensure that schools can be kept open. As yet more pupils will be expected to learn remotely, the provision of IT equipment for home schoolwork must become a top priority. It is now time for Government to step up and deliver on their promises and ensure that pupils and staff are protected as we continue to battle the virus.”
Please find a City of York Council comment below.
Cllr Keith Orrell, City of York Council’s Executive Member for Children, Young People and Education, said:
“As we have seen from the recent legal case involving Greenwich Council, only the Government is currently able to make a blanket order to close schools. In line with government guidance, the Council is continuing to work with all schools through the York Schools and Academies Board (YSAB) on the safe re-opening of schools.
“We know this is a very worrying time for parents, teachers and all school staff. We all want children to be in school. I’d like to thank everyone in our schools and our Council who have been working throughout the pandemic to make this happen in the safest way possible.
“However, we are making representations to the Department for Education and the Department for Health and Social Care asking for greater clarity and earlier co-ordination of issues relating to schools re-opening, together with more localised decision making. It would be better for these decision-making powers to be given to local authorities and local Public Health and Children’s Directors who know their communities best.”
The latest national guidance from the Government for parents is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/what-parents-and-carers-need-to-know-about-early-years-providers-schools-and-colleges-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak