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Published: Thursday, 21st May 2020

During the COVID-19 crisis the majority of Royal Borough of Greenwich Schools have remained open for children who are vulnerable and for those whose parents are key workers.

Alongside this, a number of schools have been conducting home visits to the most vulnerable children in our borough.

On the first day of lockdown, 1,036 pupils attended school. This figure has dropped throughout the pandemic but, following the Prime Minister’s announcement last week, just over 1,000 pupils were in school again with increased attendances reported across the borough 

The government has now said that schools should plan a phased reopening from 1 June, starting with nursery, reception, year one and year six. It is important to stress that this is a government decision and not one that sits with local authorities.  

We want children to be able to go back to school if it can be done safely. This is especially true for those who are vulnerable. We estimate that 75% of our most vulnerable children in Royal Greenwich have not been to school once in this pandemic, despite being able to. 

However, the Prime Minister also suggested a return of all pupils before the end of the academic year. We do not believe it is possible to do this safely for children or staff within the timeframe.  

The TUC has set out essential measures it is asking to be met before schools reopen, and plans to meet with ministers on 28 May to assess the progress. The measures are: 

1) Safety and welfare of pupils and staff as the paramount principle 

2) No increase in pupil numbers until full rollout of a national test and trace scheme 

3) A national COVID-19 education task force with government, unions and education stakeholders to agree statutory guidance for safe reopening 

4) Consideration of the specific needs of vulnerable students and families facing financial hardship 

5) Additional resources for enhanced school cleaning, PPE and risk assessments  

6) Local autonomy to close schools where testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases 

Since these measures were published, we have been working with our officers to develop Greenwich’s response and get assurances that our schools will be able to open safely. The Council’s guidance will be shared with schools as soon as possible to ensure that we are all working together. 

Given that each school is different in terms of layout and staff groups, there will, of course, be differences in the approach taken.  It is right and proper that school leaders and governors develop these local plans and determine what works best for their school and their pupils. Many schools are now conducting surveys with their parents and carers to assess the level of demand and plan accordingly 

We will continue to work within national guidance from the government, scientists and unions to ensure that school reopening is done safely. We have also joined with local authorities across the country to raise concerns with the Department for Education (DfE). We ask that the DfE continues to engage with schools, unions, teachers and local authorities at every stage to ensure we can work collaboratively and in the best interests of our children, young people and teaching staff. 

In moving forward, we would like to make clear: 

  • As this is a government decision, we have decided to work as far as possible with all affected parties to develop a plan that maximises the safety of our school communities in Royal Greenwich.  

  • Parents will be contacted and informed of the arrangements. Schools will complete a health and safety assessment and will be able to explain the measures they are taking to keep children and staff safe. 

  • We know that parents will have concerns, and there will be no compulsion to send children back to school at this time, or any penalty if parents or carers choose not to. The Council will also work with schools and communities across Royal Greenwich to address these concerns. 

  • Staff will also have a range of reasons for not returning to work at this point and headteachers will make arrangements to reflect this. Safety is our priority and we encourage all headteachers to ensure they have a full picture of their staff needs. 

  • It is important to stress that no formal decision to reopen schools has yet been taken and we know the government will make that clear on 28 May. 

Discussions between headteachers, boards of governors, teachers, parents and the council are continuing. It is likely that the situation will continue to change as ideas are discussed and new information is considered.  

A letter has been sent to schools for parents and carers which you can download and read on our website.