Newham demands help to test pupils and teachers before backing school reopenings

Newham Council wants more assurance from government before backing the wider reopening of schools. P

Newham Council wants more assurance from government before backing the wider reopening of schools. Picture: Tim Goode/PA. - Credit: PA

The council has urged the government to give it resources to help test staff and pupils before it backs school reopenings.

Newham made the call as part of a statement outlining its position on the proposed reopening of primaries to more pupils from June 1.

The government announced on May 24 that primary schools will welcome back Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 with nurseries and early years providers to do the same for children of all ages.

Secondary schools, sixth forms and colleges are expected to provide face-to-face contact for Year 10, Year 12 and 16-19 further education students from June 15.

Newham’s statement says: “While we all want to have more pupils returning to our schools, we only want this to happen as soon as it is safe to do so.”

It adds that deprivation and health inequalities have had a “disproportionate” impact on people in Newham, making them “more vulnerable” should a second wave of Covid-19 strike.

“[I]t is important the government ensures the necessary conditions are met before it makes the decision it is safe for children to return to school.

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“[T]he council is demanding the government and Public Health England provide it with timely and complete Covid-19 related infection and transmission data for the borough, because at present this is not being provided.

“The council also needs the resources to support the regular testing of children, staff and a whole school,” it says.

Newham adds that while it can advise, it is up to governing bodies to decide. It has set up a panel of experts to help with schools’ risk assessments.

Newham Parents Action Group, which describes itself as a group of concerned parents advocating for each other, welcomed the statement and recognition of the impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

But its members urged waiting for an NHS and Public Health England led report on Covid-19’s impact on the BAME community before pursuing reopenings further.

The group raised concerns about academies being free to open, teachers being left to defend safety, the impact on children’s education of prolonged closures and whether, six or seven weeks from the end of the school year, it was a risk worth taking.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our priority is the education and welfare of all children and young people across the country. That is why we want to start a phased wider opening of nurseries, school and colleges is informed by the best possible scientific and medical advice.

“We will continue to work with the sector to support them to prepare for wider opening and ensure all children and young people can continue to receive the best care, education and training possible.”