Potential Phased Reopening of Schools in Gateshead
I wrote to you all last week in relation to the potential reopening of school to greater numbers of pupils beyond those from priority groups who have been accessing childcare over the last few weeks. This was in light of the government’s aspiration to start returning pupils to schools from June 1st; however, this was always subject to there being confidence in a return being able to be done safely. As part of my communication, I also asked for you to complete a survey which would provide us with vital information that would be used in the planning and preparation of any such wider opening. The response to that request has been excellent and we now have a sense of feeling from our community as well as specific numbers of children who are likely to want access school when we are able to open.
My leadership team and staff have been working tirelessly to plan and prepare for what is an extremely complex situation. We have focused on all the practicalities that are required but, at all stages, with a clear focus on safety. I know from speaking with parents/carers and reading comments from the survey that you all understand how challenging this process is.
I have also been clear that we have not being going through this process in isolation. Harlow Green is one school within a family of schools that cater for thousands of children in Gateshead; the Head Teachers from our local schools have been working in conjunction with the Local Authority so that we are able to access the best advice possible, at all stages. Our collaboration will allow us to ensure that any expansion we commit to will be done with the highest standards of safety. The following is a joint statement, which will be shared by schools across Gateshead:
In order to open Gateshead Schools to increased numbers of children safely, Head Teachers have agreed that the initial date suggested by the government of June 1st is too early and, instead, have set a date of June 8th, at the earliest.
The reasons behind this difficult decision were:
- It is generally agreed that Gateshead has one of the highest transmission and infection rates in the country for COVID-19. We are, therefore, cautious about bringing large numbers of people together in a confined space for a number of hours. Although this position may be improving, the situation remains fragile.
- Schools have not had sufficient time to complete and consult on robust risk assessments.
- The Government has yet to confirm progress on their five tests, which is a key condition they set for schools to bring more children into school. This is not expected until Friday 29th May which is too late for an opening of 1st
- The scientific evidence is not yet conclusive regarding child-to-child and child-to-adult Coronavirus transmission. This is a significant issue when working with younger children where social distancing becomes impractical and unrealistic. If asymptomatic children are capable of spreading the virus, the impact on families and communities could be severe. https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries
What does this mean?
Throughout this period, I have consulted with our Chair of Governors, Keith Wood, who has supported our shared aim. As I have said previously, we are all working to the same end which is to have all our children back in school to learn, have fun and, ultimately, thrive. To achieve this goal, we must not rush into it based on a date which suits politicians. Mr Wood and I know that we can only open our building safely to larger numbers when we have an agreed robust risk assessment and, currently, this has not been finalised and agreed within Gateshead. As soon as this is in place, we will be in a better position to implement our plans to full effect and begin the process of expanding our provision for groups of children in a strategic and safe manner.
What does that mean for my child?
- Any parent who is classed as a critical key worker can still access childcare provision at school in the same way as they have been doing to date. This is also the case for parents of children identified as part of the Priority groups (Vulnerable or EHCP).
- On week commencing June 1st, all children should continue to access the home learning material organised by their class teachers.
- Once we have all our additional safety measures in place for supporting increased numbers, any parent who has requested a place for their child once it is open for their year group will be contacted when we finalise start dates and begin a phased return. The potential start dates will be no earlier than Monday 8th June.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your understanding and co-operation throughout this entire process. Please be assured, we will continue to develop our planning and preparations for the wider opening of school to more of our pupils. We are greatly looking forward to welcoming your children back as soon as we believe it is as safe as possible to do so.
Mr M. Malik
The above message can be downloaded as a letter in PDF form by clicking here.