4 June 2020

Schools and early years advised not to open to more pupils yet

Today the council announced that the advice to Brighton & Hove schools and council nurseries remains that they should not open more widely for pupils next week. 

This situation will be kept under daily review and schools will be in contact with families directly about their plans.

Safety first

Cllr John Allcock, chair of children, young people and skills committee, said: “We are keen for schools and provision for early years to take in more children as soon as it is safe to do so. We truly understand the need for children and young people to have a face-to-face education and be able learn with friends. We are working towards this but, based on considered advice received today from public health, this is not yet the time. 

“While education is hugely important for our children, the council’s position has always been that the safety and welfare of our children, school staff and wider community has to be our paramount consideration” 

Since government restrictions came into force in March which saw schools and early years providers close for almost all children, the council has been working closely with headteachers and early years providers across the city.
 
Last month the government asked schools and early years providers to prepare to open to take in more children at the start of June. 

Government guidance asks infant and primary schools to take in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils. Secondary schools are asked to provide face to face support for young people in Year 10 and 12 during this summer term. 

Childcare for keyworkers children and vulnerable children

During the pandemic, schools have remained open to provide childcare for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children, including during school holidays. The numbers of those eligible for a place who are attending school have doubled since the restrictions came in and this is welcomed. Measures are in place to manage this as the number of pupils involved remains a tiny fraction of the whole school population. 

Government key tests

The council position against wider opening is based on considered advice from our public health colleagues. We are advised there is not sufficient reassurance that the Government’s 5 key tests have all been met locally. 

The government’s five tests:

1.    Making sure the NHS can cope
2.    A sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate from coronavirus
3.    Rate of infection decreasing to manageable levels
4.    Ensuring supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand
5.    Being confident that any adjustments will not risk a second peak of infections that would overwhelm the NHS.

In particular, the Test and Trace programme is still in its early days. It is not yet providing sufficient data in Brighton & Hove to show that the city can rely on the programme to respond to any potential local increases in cases and outbreaks. We know local cases are being reported and identified to the programme and we are likely to see numbers of cases rise in the weeks ahead as a result. More time is needed to understand the local implications.

Listening to all 

Cllr Allcock also said: “We know many families and children are facing challenges with the continued need to juggle work, family, home learning and other commitments while children are not in school, early years learning or childcare. We take this very seriously and are listening to the needs of all. We also appreciate that many families may have very real concerns about the return to school and we will do all we can to provide reassurance.” 

Schools are doing everything possible to reduce risks. This means measures such as physical distancing, staggered school times and extra hygiene will be in place.  
When pupils return to school, the experience will be different from before the pandemic began as we all learn how to live alongside Covid-19. 

The government has said clearly that parents and carers will not be fined if they choose not to send their children to school at this time.

The final decision on whether to open an individual school lies with the head teacher, in consultation with the chair of governors, but we would encourage schools to follow our advice. We also are offering support to all schools and encourage the preparation of wider opening plans so we can all be ready to respond swiftly and appropriately when needed. 

The council has advised all council run nurseries not to open to more children at this time. Non-council early years settings can make their own decisions based on their risk assessments.