FROM DIRECTOR OF CHILDREN’S SERVICES AND CHAIRS OF SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPS/RE-OPENING OF SCHOOLS IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Corporate Director of Children’s Services
Chair of Primary Executive Board (PEB)
Co-chair of Buckinghamshire Association of Secondary Headteachers (BASH)
Head of Special Schools Headteachers Group (SSHT)
We are in no doubt that the last few months have been challenging for everyone. We are enormously proud and grateful for everything you have all done since the lockdown first started. During these most difficult of times you have demonstrated calm, thoughtful and compassionate leadership of not only your staff but your wider school community. You are now working hard to respond to the government guidelines for primary and secondary schools to open more widely to pupils from the 1st and the 15th of June. Across our SEND schools, all year groups will be open. In line with government guidance, our PRUs will increase the amount and range of face to face contact with our most vulnerable pupils. As always, our priority is their safety, well-being and making sure they have ample opportunities to continue to learn. We recognise that this is a difficult process for all sectors of education nationally. Prioritising the safety of our staff, pupils and families is of paramount importance to us all.
The government guidance issued earlier this month and subsequent updates, alongside ongoing media debate, has generated a lot of questions for us all and our regular meetings between headteacher representatives and the local authority have enabled us to work through many of these areas collaboratively, resulting in the circulation of the risk assessment template and phase-specific advice that we have issued to support you in your planning.
We know that many of you are progressing with your planning of what a phased return will look like taking into account PPE, social distancing and transport. In response to this you will be aware that an initial allocation of PPE has been distributed to each school for use in line with Public Health England guidance and further supplies will be available if required. We have also circulated a survey to primary and special schools, in the first instance, to assess anticipated parent demand for transport as part of a phased return.
As a partnership (the local authority and schools) we are keen to make sure schools re-open safely for both our pupils and our staff. Now that the government has confirmed that the five tests have been met, we are supportive of schools re-opening from the 1st and the 15th of June. Whilst the DfE guidance indicates that it is not in favour of a rota system, in discussion with schools and the local authority’s public health team we are supportive of this approach in recognition of the challenges posed by social distancing, reduced class sizes, staff resources and the need for deep cleaning between sessions. The guidance also states that ‘relevant bodies (such as local authorities, academy trusts or governing bodies depending on the school type) retain responsibility for key decisions and plans’. Our collective view, therefore, is that for many schools, a rota system may be the best way to strike a sensible balance between giving as many children as possible the benefit of being back in school while also protecting the health of both staff and pupils as far as possible.
We do appreciate that some schools may not be ready to open. Our advice is that if your risk assessment (which has been discussed with your governing body or board of trustees) indicates that your school is not yet suitably prepared for opening, then it is imperative that you identify the barriers as soon as possible and contact our newly appointed Director of Education (Simon James) so that you can be supported in addressing these and open your school safely in line with your risk assessment.
As always, if there are any questions or points of clarification please contact any of us.
Again, a huge thank you for everything that you have been doing. This has been a very difficult time and we are confident that we will continue to make a positive difference to the children, young people and families in Buckinghamshire. It is important that we do the best we can to stay informed and consider all information with care whilst we continue to work together to respond to, as best as we can, the understandable fear and anxiety that pupils, their families and our own staff will have about schools re-opening next week.
Thank you for all that you do!