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‘Reckless’ National Education Union attacks West Sussex Council over schools reopening



The National Education Union has spoken out saying they have been frustrated by the ‘reckless’ approach they say West Sussex County Council has taken towards the safety of its members on the matter of schools re-opening more widely.

Joint NEU West Sussex Branch Secretary Ann Seuret said:

“It is disappointing that the local authority has referred to a ‘phased re-opening’ because schools have been open throughout the lockdown, where our members have been working on the front line, providing a vital service for vulnerable children and those of key-workers whilst they protect us from this awful disease.”

They say that contrary to the views expressed by some politicians in the county, The National Education Union is consulting on a wider re-opening of schools and is using a detailed checklist endorsed by the other education unions, which follows the structure of the government’s own guidance, to do so. They add that every school needs to consult in good time to fulfil its statutory obligations, and many are only at the beginning of that process.

It has now been confirmed to the NEU that many schools in West Sussex will NOT open more widely on June 1st despite the council claiming that they will. This follows widespread concern from heads in West Sussex wanting reassurances from government.

NEU Regional Officer, James Ellis said:

“The National Education Union wants children to return to school as soon as possible, but only when it is safe. Our five tests set out some reasonable criteria by which to measure this, and they have not been met. We still do not know the rate of infection (the R rate) in the county, or whether or not children are less likely than adults to pass on the infection. Schools are not able to keep children two metres apart, and this is acknowledged in the government guidance. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has concluded that there is no evidence that age affects the likelihood of being infected with Covid19, so we cannot understand why children are not required to social distance. Whilst testing has been increased nationally, our members are not confident that the ability yet exists across West Sussex to isolate cases and successfully contact, track, and trace them. This system just isn’t ready yet, and so we believe West Sussex County Council is acting too hastily. This stands in marked contrast to other councils who are taking a more cautious approach to only open more widely when the scientific data shows it is safe to do so. Despite this recklessness many West Sussex schools are sensibly deciding that 1st June is too soon.”

Primary schools in West Sussex which have already confirmed they will not yet open more widely on June 1st include:

  • all schools run by The University of Brighton Academies Trust: Lindfield, Blackthorns, Holmbush, Pound Hill, Desmond Anderson, and it’s secondary: Burgess Hill Academy
  • all schools run by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT): Broadfield Primary Academy, Hilltop Primary School, Portfield Primary Academy, Seal Primary Academy, Seymour Primary School, Tangmere Primary Academy, The Bewbush Academy, The Mill Primary Academy, The Oaks Primary School,  and it’s secondaries: Chichester High School,  Thomas Bennett Community College and The Academy, Selsey,
  • Southgate Primary School

In addition, Headteachers at Crawley Secondary Schools: Ifield Community College, Holy Trinity School, St Wilfrid’s, Oriel High School Hazelwick and The Gatwick School
– have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement.

In it they said:

“As a group of secondary Headteachers of the schools in Crawley we have unanimously agreed that no students will be in school (other than those for childcare) any earlier than 15th June… We have come to this position in order to act responsibly for the welfare of the school and local community.”

NEU West Sussex Joint Branch Secretary and Health and Safety Officer, Anne Barker said:

“For the National Education Union it is not about an arbitrary date, but uppermost in our considerations is the safety of our members, the children in their care, and their families. The statutory obligations of employers to meaningfully consult on risk assessments is clear.

This means there has to be enough time to explain the issues to our members, time for them to consider and make informed responses, and time for employers to take into account their response before making a final decision.

We are ready to do that on the basis of our five tests and our checklist, but schools must let go of this arbitrary June 1st date. Mr Ellis added, “If schools do push ahead to open more widely on June 1st we will advise members that we do not believe it is safe for them to attend work and that we are not satisfied that the employer has met their obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act. Any member subjected to a detriment as a consequence of not attending work will be vigorously defended by our union.”


Council launches webpage to support Crawley and Sussex children going back to school



A new webpage has been created to prepare and support West Sussex children to go back or start school with confidence.

Full of key information and content, the Back to School resource on the West Sussex County Council website is designed to give children and their families everything they need for returning in September.

It features a video recorded by West Sussex pupils who went back to school last term, speaking about some of the changes to help reassure children who have been away from school for some time about what they can expect.

Information is provided on:

• Returning to school in a ‘bubble’
• Exam results
• Mealtime arrangements
• Support with emotional wellbeing and for children with additional needs
• Family summer activities 
• Travelling to school

West Sussex County Council shares the government’s ambition for every school-age child to be back from the start of the new academic year. The coronavirus restrictions since March 20 mean that the majority of the county’s near 115,000 school-age children won’t have been in school for nearly six months when they go back – so it’s crucial they feel ready, supported and confident to return along with their parents and carers.

Nigel Jupp, West Sussex County Council Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said:

“We share the desire for all school-age children to get back to school safely, especially after so many missed out on much of their valuable education during the school lockdown restrictions.

“Our Education Team continues to support school staff and governors in their meticulous preparation and risk assessments ahead of September. It’s so important that every child and young person feels ready and confident about returning, and for families to be assured that all the necessary safety measures are being put in place.

“As well as speaking to their school about the individual changes being made, I really hope families find this new webpage a useful tool to use together.”

Throughout the pandemic, West Sussex schools remained open for children of key workers and those who are vulnerable, and welcomed additional pupils back from June 1. The county’s attendance figures was significantly higher than the national average, with nearly 22% of pupils attending school towards the end of the summer term, compared to the national average of 16.9%.* 

This was made possible by the dedication and cooperation of school leaders in following the national health guidance on keeping staff and pupils safe, while also supporting their parents and carers who were home-schooling.

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