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

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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.”

Coronavirus

Council aims for phased return of pupils from 1st June as schools show support

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West Sussex County Councol say they are continuing to work closely with West Sussex schools to support a phased return of pupils in a safe and managed way.

They say that detailed discussions have been held with school and academy representatives and unions to consider the government’s position that schools should begin to reopen from next month.

The council say their aim is for the phased return to start from 1 June , in line with national guidance and that schools are showing support for this approach.

But despite this, a letter has been sent out saying that Secondary Heads across Crawley (not including Thomas Bennett Community College) are not considering allowing children back before the 15th June.

Schools’ individual risk assessments are identifying how they can best manage this and maintain the safety of their pupils and staff. Priority places will continue to be given to children who are vulnerable, those with Education Health and Care Plans and the children of key workers across all year groups.

The council is also asking schools to prioritise disadvantaged pupils and those who have limited access to online resources in both primary and secondary schools.

It means that the way schools will manage the return of different year groups will vary across the county and may mean that not all of the specified year groups will go back to school at the same time.

Nigel Jupp, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said:

“I would like to thank all of the teachers and school staff across West Sussex who continue to work tirelessly for their pupils. I am also extremely grateful to the children, parents and carers who have adapted so well in very difficult circumstances.

“We are supporting schools to plan for a phased reopening in a safe and managed way for all pupils and staff.

“Throughout the lockdown, our education team has worked together with headteachers, governors and unions. The number of children, including those who are vulnerable, attending school during this period has been above the national average. Everyone involved in education in West Sussex wants what’s best for our children – to keep them safe and keep them learning.”

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