Government has ‘really messed up’ school reopening plans, says Bristol Mayor

May 18 2020
Government has ‘really messed up’ school reopening plans, says Bristol Mayor

BRISTOL Mayor Marvin Rees says the Government has “really messed up” its plans for reopening schools.

Mr Rees said he would back head teachers to make their own decisions on whether or not to reopen on June 1 because their schools served different needs depending on the community they were in.

If follows a row over the planned phased reopening of schools, with teachers’ unions saying the date is too soon to be safe.

Some councils have said they will refuse to follow the guidelines to send pupils back.

Schools in England closed for most students on March 20, with only the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters continuing to attend.

Nursery and pre-school, reception and Year 1 and 6 pupils are due to return to primary schools on June 1, while Years 10 and 12 pupils will be the first to go back to secondary schools and colleges.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the decision was based on the “best scientific advice with children at the very heart of everything we do” and that it would be closely monitored.

But Mr Rees attacked the decision during an interview on BBC Radio Bristol today.

He said: “This has been really messed up.

There is no need for this debate, this whole decision, to have ended up in this binary option and conflict as it has.

We knew it was coming. Government could have talked to unions about this seven to eight weeks ago. The Department for Education should have been all over this.

The truth is you cannot just make a blanket statement on Bristol.

What we’ve said is we will back our schools to make the decision they have to make.

There are many issues at play here.

It is about education and health but actually for some children, home is not the safest place for them. School is the safest place for them in terms of hunger and safeguarding.

For a decision to be made for any school it is about the balance of risk.

Our schools serve very different groups of children and young people.

What we have said to our schools is that we will work with you and we will back you in the decision you make with your teaching staff and your governors.”

Mr Rees said some schools would choose to reopen their doors on June 1 while others would not.

There was a report today saying children from wealthier backgrounds were getting 30 per cent more education time than children in houses where they did not have a place to work,” he said.

That has compounded itself.

A head teacher may be making a decision about that and saying ‘The level of need in my patch is I want to bring some of those children back in’.

Other schools may say ‘I know they are getting an education at home, so I don’t feel as much pressure to open the school’.”

Speaking at the Government’s daily Downing Street media briefing on Saturday, Mr Williamson said “we owe it to the children” to get them back in the classroom and sought to reassure parents it would be safe while coronavirus infection rates were declining.

He said he knew some parents were “very anxious” about reopening schools but that it would be a “cautious, phased return”.

There are some who would like to delay the wider opening of schools but there is a consequence to this,” Mr Williamson said.

The longer that schools are closed, the more children miss out.

Teachers know this. Teachers know that there are children out there that have not spoken or played with another child of their own age for two months.

They know there are children from difficult or very unhappy homes for whom school is the happiest moment in their week and it’s also the safest place for them to be.”

Schools in Wales will not reopen on June 1, while pupils in Scotland and Northern Ireland may not return before the summer holidays.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service