Parents who do not send their children back to school between now and mid-June will have their decision respected, says Southwark Council – as schools begin reopening despite most parents being against the move.
On Monday, 21 of Southwark’s 75 state primary schools, and three of its five state nurseries, started their phased returns after conducting detailed risk assessments.
The majority had still been open throughout April and May for essential workers’ children and pupils believed to be at particular disadvantage by staying at home.
The council says its strategy is a “gradual and phased approach that carefully mitigates the risks and lets everyone settle into the new arrangements rather than rushing to meet an arbitrary date.”
Early findings from a council survey showed the majority of parents do not believe schools should open up again – though the exact figures have yet to be published.
On Tuesday, a further 22 primaries and one more nursery began welcoming back more students. All others will follow suit from June 15.
Cllr Jasmine Ali, cabinet member for children, schools and adult care, said: “The decisions on reopening have and will be based on the risk assessments, which schools have developed with input from teaching staff.
“I want to thank head teachers and school staff for their diligence in this matter. I know all schools are making decisions based on their individual circumstances.
“Our priority is making sure our children return to school safely at the right time, not rushing to meet a specific deadline.
“Having received over 1,700 survey responses from parents about their educational experiences during lockdown and the proposed phased return to school, we know there are strong feelings in our community, on all sides.
“We are aware that many parents have expressed concerns about the proposed reopening of schools, whilst also expressing positive experiences about education at home during the lockdown.
“I want to reassure parents that schools are only starting a phased reopening when they believe it is safe to do so and following careful considered risk assessments.
“Of course if parents still don’t want to send their children to school at the start of the phased return then we will respect their decision.
“We know that the government’s own chief science officer warned yesterday that there is little room for manoeuvre, so with the R rate still close to one, rest assured the council’s public health team will be monitoring the situation very closely. We will continue to work alongside schools, and will keep you informed.”
Safety measures include checking temperatures, ‘bubbles’ with no more than fifteen children, and each class not mixing with any other groups.
Arrival and leaving times will be staggered. Lunch and toilet breaks will also be coordinated to minimise contact.
Schools are also changing classroom layouts, putting more deep cleaning in place, and upping handwashing.
Their schedules are not the same across the board. Each school has written to all parents asking them to confirm if they want their child to return when eligible to do so – on the condition they do not have any symptoms within their household.
Albion Primary invited more keyworker children, or those seen as particularly vulnerable, back to school this week on Monday and Tuesday. Reception was opened on Wednesday, with year six coming back on the 10th, and year one on the 17th.
In guidance for parents published by Ark Globe Academy, principal Samantha Colburn explains the phased return started with nursery classes on Wednesday (June 3), with reception planned for Monday, June 8 and year one and year six on June 15.
At Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich’s principal, Peter Groves, wrote to parents that lessons will be given to GCSE students in core subjects – English, Maths and Science from Monday, June 8.
Alongside physical changes to classrooms and the school day, teachers are also working on pastoral support for students.
Mr Groves explained in his letter: “This opportunity to work with subject specialists will have a huge impact on the students’ progress and preparation for the GCSEs in the summer of 2021.
“Importantly there will be a pastoral and wellbeing session to help the students develop as young adults and deal with the negative effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I also want them to have the opportunity to have a lunchtime at a social distance with their peers with whom they have had no contact for over two months.
“Additionally, each student will have an individual support session with a member of staff.”
Although some top public schools across the country have said they will not reopen until the next school year, Dulwich College and James Allen’s Girls’ Schools are two private schools in Southwark following government advice.
At JAGS, reception, year one, and year six came back Tuesday after a staff training day held on Monday to put safety measures in place. It also continues provision for keyworker children.
Dulwich College has reopened its nursery, reception and year one, and year six, from June 2 and is now planning contact days for year ten and year twelve pupils.