Schools update: Information about the decision not to open schools more widely

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

More information about the decision has now been shared by Deb Austin, Interim Executive Director Families, Children & Learning, and Councillor John Allcock, Chair of Children, Young People and Skills committee.

This follows requests from parents asking about what factors are influencing our current position not to open schools to more pupils from nursery years, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

When will the decision be reviewed?

The council is reviewing the situation frequently. The next update on our position will be shared tomorrow, first with headteachers and then more widely.

To confirm, we will make a further announcement on Wednesday 10 June about whether we advise schools and council run nurseries to open or remain closed to more pupils from Monday 15 June 2020.

We continue to be keen to see more pupils return to our city schools and early years settings as soon as possible.

We know waiting for a decision is difficult for parents, carers and schools in terms of planning for children returning to nursery years, Reception, Year 1 or Year 6. 

This decision is being taken extremely seriously by all involved. We are doing all we can for the good of pupils and staff to mitigate the risks and provide necessary support.

What information are we using to inform our advice to schools?

The safety of pupils, staff and the community has been and will continue to be our top priority.

We want to make sure we all have the most up-to-date information to ensure we are sufficiently satisfied that the risk to children and staff is effectively managed.

Our understanding of the Covid situation in Brighton & Hove is based on the data we receive.

Locally the public health team reviews early warning indicators on a daily basis.

These include:  

The government’s Test and Trace system was introduced on Thursday 28 May and is beginning to provide helpful data about the local situation. 

While we are starting to receive information and data from the Test and Trace programme, there is currently no Test and Trace data published that we can signpost you to.

We are currently looking at ways we can publish this data in a really clear format so that people can see the information that is publicly available.

We are also working with headteachers to support their risk assessments at each school. The completed assessments show how risk will be managed in different individual physical settings.

Schools in other parts of the country returned on 1 June – why did we advise against it?

The council’s Public Health team’s advice on Thursday 28 May was based on the government’s five tests for easing lockdown including extending the opening of schools and nurseries not all being met. 

The government’s five tests are:

  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.

The council’s Public Health team advice on Thursday 28 May was based primarily on the untested nature of the very recently introduced Test and Trace programme and whether it could effectively respond to outbreaks or multiple outbreaks.

On this basis it could not be stated that the fourth test and the associated fifth test were met.

The council’s Public Health team advice on Thursday 4 June acknowledged that the Test and Trace programme had been in place for one week and that the Director of Public Health had begun to receive daily updates on activity. 

The local updates confirmed that local residents were accessing the programme and contacts were being traced and advised to self-isolate.

However, information, including data showing a small increase in the number of new cases in the city, had recently been reported.

It was recommended that we continue to monitor implementation the Test and Trace programme to make sure the necessary data to respond to any potential local increases in cases or outbreaks is available.

Therefore we advised schools and nurseries not to open on Monday 8 June.

What’s different now?

We are in a better situation now in terms of the data available. We have data on the first 10 days of Test and Trace as well as the daily data on case numbers.

This week, the Public Health team will be able to update on the latest data on Wednesday 10 June.

As mentioned, it is very important for the return to schools that we can rely on the new Test and Trace programme to respond to any potential local increases in cases or outbreaks. This is particularly important given the recent small increases in cases seen in the city.

The Public Health team is continuing to monitor the implementation of the programme this week.

We will make a decision on Wednesday (tomorrow) about whether we will advise schools and council nurseries to open to more children from Monday which will hopefully give everyone involved time to get ready.

Which pupils are due to go back to school this term?

Last month the government asked schools to prepare to open to more pupils at the start of June.

Infant and primary schools are asked 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.

Will all schools be ready?

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.

Schools have also been looking at how best to expand the number of pupils attending each day. Headteachers and staff have carried out detailed risk assessments and put measures in place best suited to the needs of each school community.

Schools will re-open in a phased way, some will be more able take in more pupils than others based on a range of factors. Schools will communicate directly with families about how and when to attend.

What does this mean for my child?

If your child is in one of the age groups due to return to the classroom this term, your school will be in touch with more details when they are ready to open to more pupils.

When more pupils return to school, the experience will be different from before the pandemic began as we all learn how to live alongside Covid-19.

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. 

For other pupils, home learning will continue.

As a parent or carer, we appreciate that you may have very real concerns about your child returning to school.

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

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Councillor John Allcock

Update: Schools and early years provision

A letter has been shared with parents and carers in the city explaining the local response to the government's recent announcement about schools opening to more pupils from 1 June.