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Devon Councillors raise safety questions before children return to school

May 22, 2020 11:37 AM



Devon Liberal Democrat councillors have asked 15 key questions about safety for children and staff before schools re-open across the County.

They submitted the questions to Devon County Council as concerns continue to be raised about the arrangements for schools to open for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children and the safety for both staff and pupils.

"Everyone is concerned about the impact on the education of children and young people over the lock-down period but there are undoubtedly mixed messages from Government, and parents are raising concerns about the arrangements being put in place," explained Cllr Alan Connett, Liberal Democrat opposition leader at Devon County Council.

"We are asking these 15 key questions because education cannot simply be for those who are able to return to school. Parents also want to know what the arrangements will be for children who remain at home because their year-group has not been called back to class.

"Clarity for children with Special Educational Needs is also needed and also areas such as school meals, and the council-provided school transport," added Cllr Connett. With teachers' unions and the British Medical Association expressing concerns about safety in classrooms, the Liberal Democrats at Devon have also asked for confirmation about arrangements for personal protective equipment in schools.

"I have been advised confidentially that some school staff have been told they are not to use personal protective equipment. How will this reassure parents, children or help school staff. Indeed, might it not open schools that do this to the risk of legal challenges. There are so many mixed messages and concerns which are creating avoidable anxiety ahead of some children being able to return to class from June 1, explained Cllr Connett.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils across the country, has also raised concerns.The LGA says:" Councils are keen to support their local schools to get children back as soon as possible. However, the safety of children, their families and staff will always be the top priority."

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, added: "Councils have worked with all schools to keep them open throughout the coronavirus pandemic for vulnerable children and families of key workers. We know how vital it is for a child's development to be in school, particularly for the most vulnerable children.

"As there are different COVID-19 infection rates around the country, schools and councils must be able to work together to decide how and when schools open to more children. Some areas may want to work faster than others. "Councils also need crucial testing data to be shared with them, to help enable greater confidence for teachers and parents around school openings, and powers to manage outbreaks in places like schools, care homes, businesses and communities if new COVID-19 clusters emerge.

" In Devon, the Liberal Democrat councillors say their 15 key questions will draw information to help reassure parents, teachers and other school staff that safety is a priority and that education will not become an educational post code lottery across the County, said Cllr Connett.

Do you agree with our Councillors?

These are the 15 questions:

With the potential return to school a current topical item and one which is concerning many parents - and no doubt teachers and educationalists generally, I have set out below a number of questions for which I would be grateful for the County's response. I appreciate County doesn't control Academies or Academy Trusts, but I am interested to know if the county is liaising with them (and that they are co-operating), so the county council has a complete overview of the educational provision in its area.

1. Will children not able to return to school be provided with appropriate home learning packages and support?

2. What arrangements are being made to support return to school for children with Special Educational Needs?

3. What is the Council doing to ensure that children with SEND are properly supported, whether at school or at home?

4. Are schools being deep cleaned before re-opening and what, if any, risk assessment has been made?

6. Are senior schools in the Authority area asking parents or children to consider dropping one of more GCSE subjects?If so, why?

7. What arrangements are being put in place to ensure children are provided with school lunch and, where necessary, can attend breakfast and after-school clubs?

8. What arrangements are being put in place for pupils to remain socially distant on council provided or funded school transport - including public transport where passes are provided by the authority?

9. Is the Council supporting schools with the supply of Personal Protective Equipment?

10. Many schools will be part of independent Trusts or Academy Trusts. What efforts is the council making to ensure a safe but flexible approach to returning to education across the council area?

11. What view will the council take with regard to parents who decline to return their children to school if they perceive the risk is too high and what support may be available to those parents? How often will the council review this decision?

12. What arrangements is the council making to maintain social distancing with regard to the use of taxis to take children to and from school?

13. What is the budget for school transport in the current financial year?

14. How much has been spent on school transport from April 1 - May 22 this year

15. What is the projected expenditure on school transport costs for the current financial year?