Cambridgeshire parents warned to ‘think carefully’ before sending children into school
Parents are being asked by the county council to “think carefully” before sending their children into school during the new lockdown as large class sizes will make it harder to control the virus.
One Cambridge primary school headteacher has had ten times as many children of “critical workers” needing a classroom place compared with the first lockdown and warns his school is only just coping.
All schools are making places available to children of critical workers, but many heads have seen a huge increase in the numbers of pupils being sent for in-school lessons compared with the first lockdown.
But the government’s new list of critical workers now includes parents whose work is critical to the Brexit response, which encompasses a lot more workers than in the first lockdown as anyone whose job involves imports or exports could qualify. And it allows children with at least one parent or carer who is a critical worker to go to school or college if required.
However, Jonathan Lewis, director of education for Cambridgeshire County Council, wrote to parents: “Please think carefully before sending your children back to school. We need to ensure that the number of children and young people accessing the offer of provision in a school or college is kept to the lowest number possible, so that we can reduce household mixing and the risk of spreading coronavirus. As a result, schools will have a limit on the number of children they can safely support in their bubble arrangements. Therefore, even if you are a critical worker, if your child(ren) can remain at home rather than attend school, on some or all days, then they should. Please only use the offer of provision when it is crucial for you to undertake your critical role."
He underlined the importance of only sending children in if parents are critical workers and have no other alternative childcare available.
“Schools, settings and colleges are open to provide education to enable critical workers to respond to the crucial role you will play in the response to the Covid-19 emergency, but you must also support your school, setting and college and only use this offer of support if you have no alternatives for childcare for your child(ren),” said Mr Lewis.
“Clearly the more children and young people that attend an education setting the wider the risk of spreading the virus grows. It may be likely that schools will not be able to accommodate all critical worker children and they will have to prioritise entry due to limited space.”
The new restrictions mean that primary and secondary schools and colleges will remain open only for the children of critical workers and vulnerable children and young people to attend. All other pupils and students will receive remote education until February half term and must remain at home, in line with national guidance. But at the moment, what consitutes a critical worker appears to be extremely flexible.
If the in-school numbers grow any more we will be in trouble.
Tony Davies, who is the headteacher at St Matthew's Primary School in Cambridge said his school had seen a huge number of extra families applying for school places this lockdown.
“At the beginning of the last children we had around 13 children in each day out of 600. It gradually grew to being around 20 children. Yesterday we had more than 130 children in,” he said.
“There's been a problem with spacing people out and social distancing. It also means pretty much all of the teachers are having to teach full time. And at the same time we have got to provide online learning. We have found a system that is just about working enough to free our staff up to teach in school.
“But if the in school numbers grow any more we will be in trouble. But the bigger worry is it means we are not reducing community interactions as much as we need to be for the lockdown to be effective.
“I wrote to parents yesterday and said if you are genuinely a key worker and you are delivering a service that is critical to keep us safe as a society while this is going on then great, thank you. but if you are not then please be honest about coming to school. We have also said if one of you is a key worker but the other parent can be at home then please keep your children home. if you only need us three days a week then please send your children in for just three days. We are trying to keep our class sizes to no more than 15.
“The other difference in this lockdown is that more businesses seem to be open than last time and more parents have been expected in work than previously. So people who are genuine key workers had partners at home last time to look after their kids but this time around their partners are still at work and have no choice but to send their children is.
“It's an issue for most schools. We have about a quarter of our children in. Yesterday we had to send two class bubbles home with cases of coronavirus whereas last term we only had one case. There's no point doing this if it's not going to bring infections down. I would much rather have a fuller lockdown until February half term and then go back to school than carry on like this for months.”
What is the law around leaving children home alone?
The county council has warned parents that although there is no law about when you can leave your child on their own, it is an offence to leave them alone if it places them at risk.
The council said: “As parents, you should use your judgement on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them at home.”
The list of critical workers can be found on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision
Early years settings – including nurseries, childminders and school-based provision – can remain fully open during this period, but reception classes and higher year groups will remain closed. Parents can form a childcare bubble with one other consistent household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the children are under 14. This is mainly to enable parents to work and must not be used to enable social contact between adults. Some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble. Details of support and childcare bubbles can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/making-a-childcare-bubble-with-another-household#what-a-childcare-bubble-is.