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Kent MPs have their say on reopening schools debate

The debate on whether it is safe to send children back to school on June 1 continues to divide opinion.

The government has issued rules and advice to try and protect children when they return but teachers are still not convinced by the decision and choosing to stay closed.

Here is what your MP has to say on the matter:

Ashford - Damian Green

Damian Green. Picture: Andy Jones
Damian Green. Picture: Andy Jones

"Whether there's physically sufficient space is a decision for each head teacher. I do think it's really important to get kids back to school, because there's evidence those affected most by this are the most disadvantaged when it comes to home schooling and access to it.

"If you want to give everyone an equal chance, then the more children we can get to school - and the sooner - the better."

Canterbury - Rosie Duffield

Rosie Duffield
Rosie Duffield

"We have the most fantastic head teachers in our local area and when they feel it is as safe as possible to reopen their school, I am happy to support them in doing so. I would like a full track-and-trace system to be operational though before any year groups return to class; this will help immensely in the efforts to contain local outbreaks when they occur.

"We also need assurances from the government that teachers will have the PPE they need to continue to do one of the most vital jobs in the country: the education of our children."

Chatham and Aylesford - Tracey Crouch

Tracey Crouch
Tracey Crouch

"I am very much in favour of the phased return of primary schools across Kent and Medway, learning from the experience of other countries around the world.While I appreciate that there may be some teachers who have concerns about their personal welfare, I have been enormously impressed with the teachers and school leaders who are doing all they can to ensure a safe return to work for their pupils and staff.

"It is sadly the case that despite the Herculean efforts of teachers to home school there are many children, especially in the most deprived communities of the county, such as Chatham, who are being left behind.Unless they get back to school to be supported by their brilliant teachers, the education gap will widen."

Dartford - Gareth Johnson

Gareth Johnson
Gareth Johnson

"I am very grateful to the many teachers in Dartford who have worked hard during this outbreak to provide online lessons for children and who have kept schools open for the children of key workers.

"I want to see schools fully opening as soon as it’s safe to do so. Whilst nobody can give a 100% guarantee of safety there are risks to children if they do not return to school.

"Schools have continued to open for the children of key workers and this has enabled shop workers, police officers, bus drivers, dustmen, NHS workers, postal workers and many other heroes of this outbreak to continue working.

"I have been back in Westminster for the past week and so I know it can be worrying for many people returning to work but we have to get the country back to normality as soon as the science permits it."

Maidstone and the Weald - Helen Grant

Helen Grant
Helen Grant

"I know this is a worrying time for teachers, parents and students and it is important that advice and reassurance is provided to everyone involved before schools reopen to more students. I do believe that it is best for all children to be in school providing it is safe for them to be so and I therefore welcome the fact that plans are being made for schools to reopen to more students in a cautious way.

"Rightly, however, the Government will not take any final decision to reopen schools lightly and will only give the green light for the plans to go ahead on 1st of June if the scientific advice suggests it is safe. If any schools in Maidstone and The Weald have questions or concerns which they believe I can assist with as they finalise plans for reopening their schools then I would encourage them to get in touch at helen.grant.mp@parliament.uk."

North Thanet - Sir Roger Gale

Sir Roger Gale
Sir Roger Gale

"It is a very difficult and sensitive issue and a cause with which I have some sympathy. I am personally concerned that it will be difficult to `socially distance` very young children. That saidwe do have to return to some sense of normality and to get children back into schools.

"There is no evidence from those schools that have remained open to accommodate the children of key workers that the risk to other families or, particularly, staffhas been enhanced by the sensible and careful management of these establishments.Whatever the government decides will, of course be perceived to be wrong but we have to hope that the phased reopening of schools along the timetable proposed will enable as many children as possible to get back into education and important social contact with their friends in an orderly fashion as soon as practicable

Sittingbourne and Sheppey - Gordon Henderson

Gordon Henderson
Gordon Henderson

Mr Henderson came under fire from one head teacher for his comments on the ongoing debate.

He has since responded to Mr Driver's comments and said:"I do not minimise the difficulties facing heads when opening schools, even on a limited basis, however, I would like to think that it is possible to come up with a solution that ensures the safety of staff and pupils. Surely if other European countries can put in place a workable solution, we can?

"It appears to me that the current proposal for only years R, 1 and 6 to attend school, would allow for much smaller class sizes, which in turn should make it easier to control the children. Like you, I have doubts about the wisdom of choosing those particular ages, however, my understanding is that, in primary school terms,those are the most critical in the development of children. But I accept that your colleagues and you know more about such things than I do.

"I accept also that whether or not to open at the beginning of June is a matter for your governors and you. I will support whatever you decide. However, I hope that collectively, teachers and ministers can find an acceptable compromise that allows us to start the slow path towards education normality.

South Thanet - Craig Mackinlay

Craig Mackinlay
Craig Mackinlay

"SAGE has received inputs from a huge number of experts, both in clinical practice and academic units, to help inform the government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy for re-opening society in the UK.This evidence suggests that while children can contract the infection, they do not tend to show symptoms and rarely require hospitalisation.The experience from Australian studies has been instructive.

"Most European countries have re-opened schools without obvious rises in infection in children, their families or teaching staff. For teachers, death rates reported by the Office for National Statistics are very low in comparison with many other professions and workplaces, although, admittedly schools have been functioning in very different circumstances over the last two months.

"I think we should also bear in mind the longer term damage to the health of the nation across other conditions remaining unresolved or undiagnosed, mental health conditions worsening and I fear an increase in suicides if the economy stays in lockdown and we remain in a state of fear. Far better to loosen sensibly and start a return to normality."

Tonbridge and Malling - Tom Tugendhat

Tom Tugendhat
Tom Tugendhat

“Re-opening schools is one of the most important decisions the Government will take in our recovery. Already some children are losing a large proportion of their education and in many cases home schooling is not the same. We know the impact of education on life chances and the consequent penalty children may have to live with for their whole lives if we don’t get this right.

“In Kent, we have a particular issue with Year 5 because of the Kent Test and I would like to see that year coming back as soon as possible so they can prepare. I would also like the test to be delayed by a month or so – not suspended — so that kids get a chance to be ready. It is important we recognise the hard work pupils around the county have done to prepare for the test in the autumn.”

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