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Pupils’ social distancing in schools ‘impossible’

Heads set to defy government orders over return to classrooms, as Islington parents tell of safety fears

29 May, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Emma Gowers: ‘Lots of parents want to know that their child will be safe’

SCHOOLS are set to defy the government’s order to bring pupils back next week, with parents warning that social distancing is “impossible”.

Several different plans for the return of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children have been devised by Islington’s primary schools, as requested by ministers, but not all are ready for all three age groups.

Copenhagen Primary School, off Caledonian Road, and Vittoria Primary School, in Barnard Park, are planning to take only Year 6 pupils.

A letter sent to parents and carers by Vittoria headteacher Denise McCarney said: “We are adopting a phased return because at this moment in time, we do not think it is the appropriate course of action to reopen for Nursery, Reception or Year 1 pupils.

“We will review this decision weekly in order to increase capacity as soon as possible. However, this will only happen when we are completely satisfied that it is safe to do so.”

She added: “Children will be in allocated groups of no more than 15 and will remain static as much as possible. Groups will work in an allocated part of the school only.”

It is understood all schools which have decided to reopen will be following similar safeguarding procedures, but government advice states that if any member of the 15-child “bubble” tests positive for coronavirus then all of them must self-isolate for 14 days.

MP Jeremy Corbyn is backing unions over the return to schools

Danielle Freeborn, who has a son in the Reception year at Ambler primary school in Blackstock Road, said: “He has a viral-induced wheeze caused by damp in our flat, so he is in a vulnerable category and we have been shielding him the whole time.

“I have already spoken to the school and I said I do not feel it is safe for him to go back.”

Parents will not be fined if their children do not attend and schools will not to be marked down either.

Mauro Galassini, whose daughter attends the William Tyndale primary school in Upper Street, said: “Teachers have done an incredible amount of work. I do not believe for a second that teachers are using this time not to work.

“It is totally wrong if they say it is 100 per cent safe. [Prime minister’s aide] Dominic Cummings drives to the other side of the country to keep his child safe but we are expected to put ours at risk?”

Trade unions, backed by Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, have called for schools not to be forced to cooperate with the government’s deadline.

Briony Densham, the education convener for the Islington branch of Unison and a teaching assistant at an Islington school, said: “We do not want schools to open as a union. I spoke to a meals supervisor this morning and she is very concerned. Her youngest is allowed to go back but the other two are not.

The National Education Union deliver a letter to the council on the Town Hall steps 

“It feels like the government have just not thought this through.”

Schools are likely to stagger classes and year groups with the bubbles coming in at different times in order to have a chance of maintaining social-distancing rules.

As the Tribune reported last week, the National Education Union (NEU), which represents roughly 1,500 teachers in Islington, delivered a letter to the council along with Unison and GMB calling on the Town Hall to follow councils such as Liverpool and Hartlepool who have advised against reopening.

Instead, the council issued a statement condemning the government’s actions but did not go as far as ordering schools to remain shut. Councils have been telling individual schools to make the decision themselves.

A spokeswoman for the City of London, which runs the Primary Academy in Moreland Street, Clerkenwell, said: “All City of London Corporation’s family of schools are currently working to reopen in line with government advice and Department for Education guidelines.”

The City runs several private schools including the School for Girls in the Barbican.

Independent schools are not bound by the government’s directives and have been making separate decisions.

Neil Roskili, a spokesman for the Independent Schools Association, said: “If anything we want to go beyond the government guidance. Our members would like to open up for more when it comes to year groups. Schools preparing for selective entrance exams would like to have Year 5s back.

“Year 6 is fine if you’re a state school and looking at transitioning up to secondary, but as independents we are less interested in that transition.”

Emma Gowers, who set up and runs the Montessori nursery in North Road, Holloway, and a fee-paying primary school in Cynthia Street, Angel, said there had been a “mixed response” from parents.

But she said those with children in older years are “mostly very keen” to get them back to school.

“Working parents have really struggled to enter­tain, teach and supervise online learn­ing,” said Ms Gowers. “Social distancing for small children is almost impossible.

“Lots of parents want to know that their child will be safe but also that they will still get cuddles and will be well cared for emotionally.

“We are a child-centred school and have reassured parents their children, particularly under 6, will be well cared for.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last night (Thursday): “Closing schools has deprived children of their education and, as so often, it is the most disadvantaged pupils who risk being hardest hit.

“On Monday we will start to put this right in a safe way by reopening nurseries and other early years settings and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in primary schools.

“A fortnight later, on June 15, secondary schools will be providing some face-to-face
contact time for Years 10 and 12.”

He added: “Children, and particularly young children, are much less likely to be seriously infected by the virus.”

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