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Primary school update

January 4, 2021 11:45 AM

Mayor Dave HodgsonBefore New Year the Government announced a delay of the return for all secondary schools in January, and for some primary schools in the south and east. Bedford Borough's primary schools were not included despite some areas with similar or lower number of cases being on the list, including nearby Milton Keynes which is also in our NHS Clinical Commissioning Group area.

I raised these inconsistencies at the Local Outbreak Control Board, on New Year's Eve, you can watch the meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC7MaLnyfNA&feature=youtu.be

The Government then u-turned to close all of the primary schools across London, but did not include other areas. I wrote to the Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson MP to ask that the decision for Bedford Borough be urgently reviewed and allow our primary schools to remain closed for the time being, with the exception for children of key workers and those that need to attend school, for the safety of pupils, teachers and support staff.

I am concerned that our primary schools were due to reopen despite the fact our number of positive Coronavirus cases has been rising for a number of weeks. In the seven days to 27th December we recorded over 1,000 positive cases for the first time; in the same period we saw a rate of over 650 cases per 100,000.

Our view is that primary schools should only be open for the first two weeks of term to vulnerable pupils and children of key workers due to the local and national evidence of the increase in cases and the rapid transmission of the new variant of Coronavirus.

When I did not receive a response the Council wrote to all primary schools in the Borough. Under the current guidance from the Department for Education, it remains each schools decision about whether they can safely open in line with their own risk assessment. The Council told school we would support their decision should they chose to close.

We did not do this lightly and realise the uncertainty for schools, parents and pupils will have caused anxiety, but the health concerns are real and urgent.

We have asked if a decision is made to delay opening the schools ensure that remote learning is in place, and that any children eligible for Free School Meals can still receive food/vouchers that they are entitled to.

It was also agreed that if a primary school is open but parents choose to keep their children at home there will be no fine, but the Council will keep the situation under review.

I know many schools have already contacted parents to inform them of their decision. Some schools are using today's Inset Day to make the decision and will contact parents when they have made their decision.

Yesterday evening, I received a response from Dame Kate Dethridge, the Regional Schools Commissioner's Office for North West London South Central England for the Department for Education. The response did not review the decision for Bedford Borough but detailed a new process on how we can request restrictions on education settings be considered under the contingency framework. The Council is making a new request through this process.