'A huge worry' - Norfolk primary schools ask for clarity before reopening

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson speaking in the House of Commons as he announced all UK schools

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson speaking in the House of Commons as he announced all UK schools will close by March 20 Picture: PA WIRE - Credit: PA

Primary school leaders in Norfolk and Waveney say they have been left in limbo as they prepare to open on Monday - despite London schools being told they could stay shut.

Primaries in Norfolk and Suffolk are set to reopen on Monday, January 4, with the county in the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions, Tier 4: Stay at Home.

In contrast, London schools were told on Friday by education secretary Gavin Williamson that they would not have to reopen, despite also being in tier 4.

The government is now under increasing pressure from unions to shut all tier 4 schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said: “The government needs to give complete reassurance that they are following the science. 

“If the SAGE committee is saying schools should be closed for two weeks, what is it that government ministers think they know better than the scientists? Parents, as well as everyone working in schools, is going to need reassurance about that.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders - Credit: Archant

His comment comes as the National Education Union announced on Saturday that they were calling on the government to close schools for two weeks. 

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Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, said: “We are calling on Gavin Williamson to actually do what he professes he does – to follow the science and announce, now, that primary schools in England should move learning online - apart from key worker and vulnerable children for at least the first two weeks of January.”

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal of Bignold and Angel Road schools

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal of Bignold and Angel Road schools in Norwich - Credit: Evolution Academy Trust

Binks Neate-Evans, executive principal at Bignold and Angel Road schools in Norwich, said: “We need to have a united approach. School staff don’t relish the thought of school closures or uncertainty at all, and it’s very stressful for everyone trying to manage it.”

Ms Neate-Evans added that the situation was also stressful for families: “They need certainty so that they can plan and organise. They could be in a really difficult position if they’re told at short notice that there’s a change of plan."

She added: “I think what is worrying school leaders is that there has been a change of plan in response to the rise in cases for Tier 4 schools in London. That leaves people wondering whether there could be a different decision for other schools in Tier 4 areas.

"Obviously there is a rise in the number of cases linked to the new variant and that’s a huge worry to everyone, and school staff aren’t exempt from that.”

“School staff don’t think differently to the rest of society. I worry deeply that the media can portray teachers as wanting schools shut, as being lazy, and it being an easy option.

"We need to be really clear that this way of working [amongst uncertainty] is much, much, much harder for teachers, school leaders and school staff.”

Stuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Stuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

Stuart Allen, headteacher at Mile Cross Primary in Norwich said: “Children have missed enough school and we need to try and reduce the amount of time that children are off. That’s all we can try and hope for.”

He added that it was “absolutely” the case that children were negatively affected by being out of school.

“You don’t need a study to see that... especially those children from disadvantaged backgrounds - they’re hit even worse.

"Where do they need to be? They need to be in school. We need to try our utmost to ensure that we get them in school, but keep everyone safe. 

“For every headteacher across the land, it’s not only about keeping their children safe, but their staff and their communities. That’s a huge responsibility that’s been brought about by this pandemic.”

He said social distancing measures had served the school well, and that they had been open as normal throughout the autumn term, with excellent attendance.

“My little motto has been “Stay Home, Protect Mile Cross, Help Keep School Open,” said Mr Allen.

Dave Lee-Allan, a headteacher in Suffolk, expressed his frustration that teachers were not being prioritised for Covid-19 vaccines.

He told BBC Breakfast: "It seems highly frustrating to me that we're constantly being told by the government that keeping children in school is a national priority and that we are key workers.

"Yet apparently we don't qualify, along with other key workers, to get early access to the vaccine.

"It just seems another common-sense decision that could help belay the fears and increase the safety of staff, and this is in primary and secondary."

The Department for Education was approached for comment but said they had nothing to add to previous announcements. 

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