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Coronavirus Kent: Frustrated headteachers 'bemused' over school reopening plans

Kent headteachers will not reopen their school gates in three weeks' time unless safety is guaranteed, an education boss has warned.

The chair of the Kent Association of Headteachers, Alan Brookes, said staff and parents could potentially be "taking the virus home" with them without proper health measures in place.

The Kent Association of Headteachers chairman Alan Brookes
The Kent Association of Headteachers chairman Alan Brookes

This comes less than 24-hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said primary schools may reopen as early as June 1 with a phased return of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes planned.

Mr Brookes told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "If the headteachers do not feel safe, they will not reopen the schools and parents will not take their children there either."

His comments come shortly after Mr Brookes engaged in talks with between 40 and 50 frustrated Kent headteachers following yesterday's 7pm announcement.

Debbie Wheeler, the chief executive of The Island Learning Trust which runs schools in Sheppey and Sittingbourne, earlier today criticised the government for putting the needs of the economy before public health.

Other concerns for Kent teachers centre around the return of the "wrong" year groups and lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), Mr Brookes said.

However, a 50-page dossier about the UK Government's Covid-19 roadmap was published at around 2pm today.

Under Whitehall's plans, secondary schools could reopen in September while local authorities have been told to "urge" more vulnerable children, including those with an education, health and care plan, to attend school.

Children in the classroom. Stock picture
Children in the classroom. Stock picture

The government's coronavirus report says: "Approximately 2% of children are attending school in person, although all schools are working hard to deliver lessons remotely.

"But there is a large societal benefit from vulnerable children, or the children of critical workers, attending school should therefore urge more children who would benefit from attending in person to do so."

However, Mr Brookes was less convinced and said: "There needs to be sufficient PPE for teachers. The real issue is in special schools where a lot of staff will have to be physically adjacent to the students."

He added: "The lack of information about special schools is unsurprising but tragic. It's a huge issue that needs addressing."

Ideas mooted include having classes of no more than 15 children taught in one room on the school site while others would be taught from their homes virtually.

Several Kent headteachers have also told Mr Brookes that they are "desperate" for PPE and want assurances about an "effective" Covid-19 test and trace system before returning to work.

Sittingbourne's Fulston Manor school governor said: "The general feeling is frustration yet again. There is an enormous lack of detail behind all of this.

"If this is ever going to work the headteachers need to be convinced that it's safe to reopen for children, parents and teachers.

"Otherwise they all will be potentially taking the virus home with them."

KMTV talk to Mr Brookes

On year group choices, Mr Brookes said teachers have been left "bemused" saying the Reception students are unlikely to follow social distancing rules while the return of Year 5s should be prioritised over Year 6s due to 2021 SATs exams.

He added: "Those who are four and five years old will not understand the concept of social distancing.

"It's simply not in their DNA and will not happen. We are equally mystified around the Year 6 return."

Kent county Cllr Trudy Dean (Lib Dem), a KCC education committee member, added that the return of primary schools on June 1 would be an "ambitious" government target.

On childcare, the government says in its dossier: "We are amending our guidance to clarify that paid childcare, for example nannies and childminders, can take place."

Stressing they should meet public health standards, it adds: "This should enable more working parents to return to work.

However, Mr Brookes said the "science behind the policies" needs to be clearly explained.

News from our universities, local primary and secondary schools including Ofsted inspections and league tables can be found here.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

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