School staff anxious but staying open right for students, councillor says

Tuesday, November 10th, 2020 2:18pm

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

School teachers and staff are anxious and stressed about staying open during a second lockdown but it is the right thing for the students, says a leading Derbyshire councillor.

Cllr Alex Dale, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, including schools, said he sympathised with the anxieties faced by staff.

In the first national lockdown, schools were closed to most pupils, with exceptions for children of key workers and those linked to safeguarding concerns.

However, schools remain fully open to all pupils during this second less-severe lockdown.

Cllr Dale said four or five out of every 10 schools in Derbyshire had seen one case or more of Covid-19 in the last two or three months.

He said that in the week before half term, of the 69 per cent of schools who responded to the council, three were completely closed already and 28 were partially closed with 252 fully open.

In a scrutiny meeting, Cllr Dale said: “I think it is fair to say that the second national lockdown has come as a bit of a surprise in the school sector.

“I think it is understandable that there is a degree of anxiety and stress.

“School leaders and staff and support staff are key frontline workers.

“I still believe it is the right thing to do, to try and keep schools open during this second lockdown.

“Clearly, there is always going to be a risk in terms of impact on public health and I understand that people working in those settings will be anxious about that but I think we have to balance those risks against the impact of a further loss of education on children and young people.

“Some services are just too important to close.

“Schools have to do what they think is best and for some that will include partial closures and rotas to keep services open as much as possible.”

He says the “biggest concern” for schools is that a large number of pupils at any one time will be out of school due to contracting the virus or being in contact with someone who has.

Cllr Dale said: “It becomes very difficult to teach the curriculum and so you could end up teaching the same curriculum two or three times.”

He says in many cases schools have to send whole year groups home purely due to staffing issues, not due to widespread infections among pupils.

Cllr Dale said the council had still been carrying out “window” safeguarding visits for children on protection plans where visiting to see the child in question is mandatory.

He says the council has not “let standards slip”.

Cllr Dale said possible Covid-19 outbreaks in children’s homes posed the biggest risk to council staff in his remit, with employees having close contact with those living in the homes.

He said during the peak of the pandemic the council was only getting a third of the child safeguarding referrals it normally would – most of these are typically spotted by school staff.

Cllr Dale said this has now bounced back to around the same level before the pandemic and that the council has not been hit by a “huge bulge” in potential cases, as seen in other areas.

He said: “It could still be an issue and the second lockdown could cause further issues so it is still something we are wary of and that we are planning for.”

Cllr Dale said the authority has advised schools not to have substantially staggered school start and finish times (of around 30 minutes between year groups) to avoid a “complete mess” when it comes to arranging buses for each time slot.

This includes a system where there are several buses going to the same destination with a different year group in each.

The authority has also been paying transport firms which operate its school transport services in full, despite many of them not running during lockdown, to avoid furthering their budget issues.

Cllr Dale said future finance issues for public transport companies are to be a “major challenge”.

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