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Government plan for school reopening leaves Island Learning Trust chief's 'head spinning'

A senior schools leader has said her "head is spinning" after the Prime Minister said pupils could start to return as soon as June 1.

Writing in a letter to staff and parents, Debbie Wheeler - chief executive of The Island Learning Trust which runs schools in Sheppey and Sittingbourne - blasted the government for putting the needs of the economy first when deciding when schools must begin to reopen.

Minster Primary School on the Isle of Sheppey
Minster Primary School on the Isle of Sheppey

If reopening schools means implementing social distancing measures, the former headteacher warns there would simply not be capacity to have all students at Minster and Halfway Houses primary schools on the Isle or Sunny Bank Primary School in Murston taught by a teacher they know.

In the letter Ms Wheeler said: "We have been anticipating a phased return and as such have embryonic plans underway to work towards a phased return. The announcement does raise as many questions as it answers.

"With the number of small groups we will need to offer, not all children will be taught by a known adult: there will not enough to go around.

"We know this will increase anxiety for pupils, parents and teachers alike. Despite our very best endeavours, we are not going to be able to offer the known and safe environment your child left, nor ensure in class contact with a known adult, although we will try.

"The overriding concern of the government is for schools to open to support the economy, nothing to do with supporting our children or indeed to do with providing a return to education.

Halfway Houses Primary School. Picture: Google Street View
Halfway Houses Primary School. Picture: Google Street View

"I am sure you, like us, are all struggling to understand how a safe return can be facilitated.

Ms Wheeler went on to tell staff and parents she expects further details on the plans for a reopening of schools to be released in the coming days. She also assured parents she would support them if they decided they felt unsafe returning their children to school, and would not seek to punish those whose offspring do not attend.

More than 300,000 people across the country have signed an online petition by parents campaigning to be given a choice on whether or not to send kids back to school if schools reopen in June.

Lucy Browne, who started the petition on Change.org, said: "Many of us have lost confidence in the government's handling of this crisis and feel it is too early to return children to schools.

"As a mum I don't want to face serious repercussions for making a choice I feel affects the safety of my daughter during a global pandemic."

Howard Fisher is headteacher of St George's in Minster
Howard Fisher is headteacher of St George's in Minster

The headteacher of St George's Church of England Primary School in Minster has also written to parents to express his concerns about the plans to reopen classrooms within weeks.

In his communication encouraging parents to do what they feel is best for their children, Howard Fisher said: "I can be truthful here and categorically tell you there is no such thing as social distancing in a school, it does not exist and would never exist.

"So parents, what can you do next? Well, all I can do is pass onto you information when we have it and you can make your own decision. Parent power is quite something when it is applied nationally, perhaps you too have some great ideas that can be brought before our politicians.

"I am only interested in my community and the families I serve and hope that you can reflect on my thoughts as the week unfolds."

Wouldham All Saints Primary headteacher Carl Fitter has also expressed his dismay at the Prime Minister's statement last night.

Wouldham All Saints Primary School
Wouldham All Saints Primary School

He said: "I am not happy at all. There was no substance to the announcement and hardly any detail about how this will be possible.

"There has been no guidance as to what will be safe and not safe - we have so many questions. For example, how many children will be allowed in each classroom?"

The school near Rochester carried out a survey last week in which 40% of parents said they wouldn't want to send their children back until September.

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