Suffolk schools to be ready for March 8 return of all pupils

More pupils will be returning to school from September. Picture: IPSWICH ACADEMY

School pupils will return to the classroom from March 8, the government has announced - Credit: Archant

Suffolk education leaders have said schools will be ready for all pupils to return from March 8, following the prime minister's post-lockdown roadmap announcement.

Boris Johnson told Parliament on Monday afternoon that students at all schools, colleges and sixth forms could return, as well as breakfast and after school clubs.

All secondary and college students will be expected to be tested twice a week, regardless of whether they display symptoms, while Mr Johnson also encouraged families and childcare bubbles to be regularly tested.

Education sector leaders in Suffolk are meeting on Tuesday, but senior school chiefs said they will be ready.

Craig D'Cunha, Chantry Academy principal, said: "I am delighted we will have the kids back in school, that is the best place for them socially, academically and for health and wellbeing.

"They have spent so much time just in their houses, and many won't have been out to do organised activity.

"We can do some sport, drama, music and all of that will be really beneficial."

Executive headteacher of Chantry Academy Craig D'Cunha

Craig D'Cunha from Chantry Academy said many measures were already in place for the safe return of all pupils - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

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Mr D'Cunha said measures such as hand sanitiser stations, distanced seating plans, staggered break times and face masks in corridors will remain.

It was not made clear by the prime minister whether schools would be required to establish their own rapid testing facilities on site.

However, some schools such as Chantry Academy have testing functions ready from the start of term in January prior to the third lockdown.

Mr D'Cunha said staff were also tested twice weekly, and added: "We are looking to expand that to get the numbers of students come through.

"For us, that's 1,800 tests per week for students, and another 200 with staff."

By the end of next week, 28 rapid test centres will be established across the county which secondary pupils, their families and staff will be able to use.

Mary Evans

Mary Evans, education cabinet member at Suffolk County Council said the authority will be liaising with schools - Credit: Gregg Brownn

Suffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for education, Mary Evans, said: "Parents can go with their children, and give that confidence that they are clear.

"Now it is a case of getting the classes ready. It will be a lot of hard work but everyone knows children really thrive being in school.

"We will be liaising with schools, at this stage it is working out how it's going to be done safely and carefully."

Parents who have concerns about sending their child back on March 8 are being urged to have a conversation with their school as soon as possible to discuss arrangements.

However, concerns have been also been raised about the return of all pupils at once.

Graham White is from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union

Graham White from the Suffolk branch of the NEU has called for a phased return of schools - Credit: Graham White

Graham White, from the Suffolk branch of the National Education Union (NEU), said: "Schools are the best place for pupils in normal circumstances, but we are not in normal circumstances.

"Schools need to be as safe as possible for staff, pupils and families. We are not at that point yet.

"Schools have been open for vulnerable and key workers, which has been successful. Social distancing of two metres has been possible because of small numbers of pupils This will not be the case from March 8 onwards."

He said the union's stance was a blended approach of partly school time and partly home learning would be safer given the transmission rates among children, with a gradual return of pupils in two week intervals.

Suffolk County Council Labour councillor Jack Abbott

SCC opposition Labour group education spokesman Jack Abbott called for a blended approach to learning - Credit: Archant

Jack Abbott, education spokesman from the county council's opposition Labour group, said: "I have concerns about the 'big bang' approach the government is taking towards the full reopening of schools.

"Boris Johnson's strategy will mean that around 10million pupils and staff will be travelling to and from school each day in an instant.

"To have such a large proportion of the population on the move together could set us back and undermine all of the sacrifices that have been made.

"I believe that a blended approach - a mix of in-class and remote learning - would have been a sensible compromise between the desire to get children back into school and the need for pragmatism and caution at this critical juncture."

Tim Coulson, chief executive of Unity Schools Partnership, said: “We are delighted that we will be able to welcome back all children and that they will be able to see their friends and resume their studies.

“We have been very impressed at how well children have engaged with the work provided for home learning and we are very grateful for all the support provided by their parents and carers.

“Staff across all our schools have done an amazing job in juggling in-school lessons for vulnerable and keyworker families and offering a comprehensive home schooling programme.

“We now look forward to welcoming all pupils back. We plan to help children make up lost learning time over the next year and will look to make effective uses of the Government’s additional support, including additional tutoring for disadvantaged through the trust’s recently established tutor agency, SP Tutors.”

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