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Less than half of schools reopen to returning pupils

PUBLISHED: 11:50 01 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:16 01 June 2020

Parents drop off pupils at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey as pupils in reception, year one and six begin to return to school on June 1. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Parents drop off pupils at Queen's Hill Primary School in Costessey as pupils in reception, year one and six begin to return to school on June 1. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

After 10 weeks of learning at home it was back to the classroom for some children as almost half of Norfolk’s primary schools reopened for more pupils.

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk's children's services, part of Norfolk County Council. Picture: Julian Claxton PhotographyChris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk's children's services, part of Norfolk County Council. Picture: Julian Claxton Photography

Primary schools in England have been told to reopen to pupils in reception, year one and year siox from this week, with nurseries also expected to resume sessions.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that the Government’s five key tests required for the easing of the lockdown had been met, meaning schools can admit more pupils this week.

Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk’s children’s services, part of Norfolk County Council, said just under half of schools had reopened for more priority year pupils on June 1. More schools would welcome back more pupils later this week with around 90pc expected to have priority years groups by next week.

MORE: Headteacher says schools are ‘bemused and angered’ by decision to reopen for younger pupils

She said: “Some schools have taken the decision they need some time today, or the next couple of days, or this week, to continue to prepare their schools.

“Of course, all of our schools are open as they always have been for vulnerable and critical worker children, but just under 50pc have widened their opening for those year groups, but that increases across the week and it is just under 90pc by next week.

“Last week our cautious estimate was slightly lower than 50pc from what we had heard back from the surveys schools had carried out, however I think every day parents were still deciding whether they were going to send their children back or not.”

Hillcrest Primary School in Downham Market has put in place floor markings in its corridors in light of social distancing guidelines. Picture: Matthew TryHillcrest Primary School in Downham Market has put in place floor markings in its corridors in light of social distancing guidelines. Picture: Matthew Try

An EDP survey of 700 parents found 61pc said they would not be sending their children back to school, 29pc said they would, whilst 10pc were undecided.

The government is “asking” schools and local authorities to follow its advice – but the planned reopening is not mandatory.

The practicalities of admitting more pupils while implementing measures including pupils being taught in small groups and limits on contact between groups has meant school trusts have taken different

Schools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 20. Picture: Tim Goode/PA WireSchools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 20. Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire

The Diocese of Norwich Academies and Education Trust, which has schools across Norfolk and Waveney, said just two, Gooderstone Primary Academy and Mundford Primary Academy, reopened on June 1.

A further nine hope to have more pupils back sometime this week and 12 planned to reopen next week.

Inspiration Trust has reopened three of its primary schools to more pupils but with many returning only on a “part-time” basis.

Teachers, parents and carers protest outside of County Hall in Norwich on June 1 against the reopening of schools to more pupils. Picture: Simon ParkinTeachers, parents and carers protest outside of County Hall in Norwich on June 1 against the reopening of schools to more pupils. Picture: Simon Parkin

MORE: Teachers and parents hold protest against school reopenings

However the West Norfolk Academies Trust told parents it’s schools will not reopen to more pupils on June 1.

Instead year six children will return on June 8, followed by year one on June 9 and nursery and reception children starting on June 10.

And the Eastern Multi-Academy Trust, which has 13 primary schools across West Norfolk and Thetford, has said its schools will not reopen to priority years until June 8 at the earliest.

Ms Snudden said: “What schools are trying to do is keep children into small groups, a bit like creating another family bubble, because we know that, particularly with young children, you cannot have them two metres apart all day long.

“So children will work in small groups, they will stay in those groups every single day, work in those groups with the same adult.

“Schools have found creative ways around it. Of course, all our schools are different shapes and sizes, so they all have slightly different challenges.”

MORE: ‘Keep children at home’ - Norwich MP backs calls for schools to stay closed

The reopening comes after teaching unions have spoken out about safety concerns. Norwich South MP Clive Lewis backed local union calls for schools to stay closed and urged parents to keep their children home until there is “credible evidence” that opening schools again is safe for pupils, staff and local communities.

Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said parents will “make the right decision when they feel reassured”.

He added: “We have a weekend of eminent scientists warning it might be slightly too early and inevitably that is going to unnerve both people who work in schools but also parents.”

Asked what her message was to parents who had chosen not to send their children back, Ms Snudden said: “I understand that and I think we are all grateful that it’s parental choice at this stage. But listen to your headteacher and your school.

“If you need reassurance that they have put in arrangements that are right for the children, then all I can say is talk to them because it will look slightly different in every school.”


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