Even before ditching of plan that primaries fully reopen number going back is low
Children social distancing in the playground at St Benedict's school
June 9, 2020
Ealing Schools have been slow to return to normal even before this Tuesday’s (9 June) announcement by the government that the plan for all primary school children to go back before the end of term has been dropped.
Schools now are to be given flexibility over whether to admit more pupils based on the measures they are able to take to reduce risk.
The “majority of parents” have felt reassured by social distancing measures at St Benedict’s School, head teacher Andrew Johnson has said, after planning for one of a handful of schools to reopen classrooms from 1 June in the borough.
The independent Catholic school, revealed 83 per cent of children in the nursery, Year 1 and Year 6 returned to the Montpelier Avenue site, after the government asked schools to begin phasing pupils back to school from the beginning of the month.
Staggered arrival times at different entrances to the school, placing children into ‘bubbles’ or groups which they stay in throughout the day and desks kept at two metres apart are some of the measures introduced by the staff.
Mr Johnson, said, “We are all delighted to see some of our pupils returning to school now, and particularly pleased that the majority of parents feel reassured by the stringent measures we have in place to keep everyone safe and well.
“It was clear from seeing the children on Monday that they are really glad to be back, and that social distancing is not preventing them from enjoying school and having a lot of fun. I pay tribute to all St Benedict’s staff who are working so hard to ensure the safety of our pupils.”
St John’s Primary School in West Ealing also opened its doors last week with head teacher Milan Stevanovic describing the return of the “buzz of excitement and energy” that had been missing for the last few months in lockdown. He added the school was waiting on further government guidance to allowing more year groups also re-attend school in person.
In Ealing it is believed only a handful of schools opened up to certain year groups last week. Ealing Council understood two schools out of 69 had reopened, while union bosses said they were aware of five schools planning to reopen last week.
Ealing Council understands the majority of schools will reopen their sites to more children from next week (June 15), as staff and head teachers across the borough have expressed concerns over safety for pupils and families and fears of a second spike in Covid-19.
The earliest date of June 15 has also been proposed due to findings from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which says the risk of a child being infected with coronavirus is halved by a delay of schools reopening until then.
In a public meeting online with Ealing North MP James Murray and the National Education Union Ealing secretary Stefan Simms, 300 attendees made up of parents and others endorsed urging the council to formally recommend against reopening schools until June 15.
This call, also backed by UNISON and the GMB union, however has not been adopted by the council. Instead the authority has said schools should only open to more pupils when they are ready to do so.
Council leader Julian Bell added: “Our advice to schools continues to be that they shouldn’t reopen to meet an arbitrary deadline.”
The National Education Union has been urging for its five tests to be met before schools reopen, including ensuring a low number of coronavirus cases, a national plan for social distancing, protection for vulnerable staff and students’ families and regular testing for those within schools.
In Ealing, concerns for coronavirus spreading to vulnerable family members living in multi-generational households has also been highlighted as a risk in children returning to school.
Mr Simms said: “Parents are genuinely worried…For the science of two weeks that is a lot of lives this government is putting at risk.
“All the education unions urged the council, the headteachers’ unions as well as ourselves asked this of the council.
“It is one thing not to be too surprised if the classroom teachers asked and the head teachers took a different stance but the headteachers agreed with us.”
He added on the public meeting call: “That is a strong message.”
The union chief also highlighted how in areas such as Southall, some schools haven’t even had key worker or vulnerable children attend school due to fears from families over contracting the virus.
One Ealing teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said at their school in the borough there is a reluctance from parents to bring their children back to school.
So far, for a planned reopening of next Monday, there has been less than a 50 per cent uptake on places.
They said: “I think the fact is people are not clear, they don’t have confidence in the messages being given out, is it safer to go back to school? Is it safe enough to ease lockdown? There are more questions than there are answers at the moment that aren’t reassuring people.
“Also in those areas I teach in we have got a lot of people living in multi-generational households at home…Children pick up all kinds of bugs that is part and parcel of being a teacher but then with the spread and the effect it has on different parts of the community, older people, BAME community, we want to protect them.
“We want to make sure they are safe, that we are safe.”
They added: “The teachers want to go back, they want to see the children they want to teach the children…but we want to feel we are not at risk or any of the children or families are at risk and currently we don’t feel we are getting that message from the government.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter