A headteacher at a Berkshire primary school in an area rife with coronavirus has told parents she would keep her children at home if she didn’t feel safe about sending them to class.
Gill Denham, head of the Marish Academy Trust – which runs Marish and Willow primary schools in Tier 4 Slough – said she would make online learning available to families who don’t want to send their children back, Berkshire Live reports.
Her letter came on Sunday, ahead of many schools’ planned reopenings on Monday, and as pressure intensifies on the government to keep schools shut to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Ministers have insisted it is safe to open the majority of schools, with health secretary Matt Hancock saying teachers do not get infected at higher proportions than the rest of the population, while unions say the government’s “chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion”.
Denham told parents that “like many of you the leadership of Marish Academy Trust are surprised that Slough schools have not been included within the contingency plan which mandates the closure”.
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“It is a question of how long before we have multiple cases and bubble and whole school closure, rather than whether we will get any,” Denham said.
Action against parents who keep their children at home will not be recommended, she said.
She added: “As a parent and grandparent myself, if I feel that the risk of my child or someone else in my family contracting COVID-19 is too high, if they attend school from Monday, I would keep them at home.
“It may be that this is the decision some of you come to for your own families. Rest assured, online learning will be provided for all those pupils who do not attend in person.
“Marish and Willow schools will remain open for the children of key workers, those with vulnerabilities or any pupils whose parents want them to attend.”
Slough saw 777.1 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to and including 28 December, according to the BBC – levels similar to London boroughs, where all primary schools are to stay shut.
Slough’s Labour MP Tan Dhesi said he has spoken to the leader of the council, and that the council has “reached out to schools” and “we’ll take steps accordingly”.
Many parents emailed me about schools reopening concerns.
It’s a Govt decision but I’ve discussed with @SloughLeader, Chief Exec and others, as student and teacher safety paramount.@SloughCouncil have reached out to schools to ascertain views and we’ll take steps accordingly.
— Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP (@TanDhesi) January 2, 2021
Nationally, calls to keep schools closed have been echoed by a series of unions.
A joint statement, signed by GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite, said: “Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic.
“Unions have called for a pause in the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and children of key workers, and a move to remote learning for all while COVID-secure working arrangements are reviewed.
“All school staff continuing to work in schools should be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Some schools in Tier 4 areas will be open for vulnerable pupils and key worker families and will be providing remote learning for others, yet in other areas also in Tier 4, all pupils will be admitted.
“That’s a confusing picture for school leaders and families alike.”
Bryony Baynes, head of Kempsey Primary School in Worcestershire, said she felt “sick with anxiety”.
“I am not an epidemiologist – I trained to be a teacher, not to study viruses,” she added.
“I have to depend on the DfE (Department for Education) and my local authority to lead me and, at the moment, I don’t feel that leadership is clear.”
Speaking to Andrew Marr on Sunday, Boris Johnson said: “I understand people’s frustrations, I understand people’s anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.
“And if you think about the history of the pandemic, we’ve kept schools going for a long, long time in areas where the pandemic has really been at really high levels.”
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