Portsmouth City Council gives blessing to schools wishing to remain closed as safety concerns continue

THE city council has given its blessing for schools to remain closed until June 15, following safety concerns in a scientific report into their reopening.

By Neil Fatkin
Saturday, 23rd May 2020, 11:50 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd May 2020, 6:07 pm

The government were targeting a June 1 return for Year R, 1 and 6 pupils but after new research described the plan as a ‘dangerous decision’ and recommended a delay of at least another two weeks, the council have said they ‘will respect the decision’ of schools which wish to remain closed.

Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for education, Councillor Suzy Horton, said: ‘In the light of the report today, some schools will feel that it is right to wait for another two weeks before opening for additional children, while continuing to teach and care for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

‘Where local authority maintained schools wish to wait until 15 June before wider opening, assuming this is allowed by the government, we will respect that decision. This will give them more time for detailed planning which many will find helpful.’

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In light of a new report, Portsmouth City Council have said they will 'respect' the decision of schools to remain closed beyond the government's target of a June 1 return.

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The ‘Independent Sage’ report was led by the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King.

Sir David said: ‘It is clear from the evidence we have collected that June 1 is simply too early to go back.

‘By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.’

In light of this advice, Councillor Horton said she understood why some schools may wish to delay reopening beyond the proposed date.

She added: ‘We respect the expertise of Sir David King and his colleagues, which needs to be considered carefully. The unofficial report recommends a delay of two weeks before additional children return to school.’

The independent report was released on the same day that the government’s official scientific advisory group, Sage, published their own report which said the risk of coronavirus to pupils going back to the classroom was ‘very, very small, but it is not zero’.

While the official report suggested children may be less likely to transmit the disease, it added that scientists ‘cannot be clear’ on the extent schools could be reopened without leading to a rise in cases.

The report put forward seven potential ‘return scenarios’ with confusion continuing as to which is being implemented in England.

While the report also stressed the risk to children is still ‘very low’, the lack of clarity has concerned councillors.

Cllr Horton said: ‘The official paper is very complicated and gives a range of possible infection risk outcomes for communities as a result of schools reopening to different groups of children.’

The council has said it will also respect the decision of schools which do wish to open before June 15 ‘as long as they are satisfied that they have put all the necessary safety measures in place, consistent with government guidance’.

For those schools which are academies, the governing academy trusts will ‘take their own decisions’.

The government is expected to make a final decision on school reopenings on May 28, and Hampshire County Council is awaiting this confirmation.

Executive member for education, Councillor Roz Chadd, said: ‘The Prime Minister has set an ambition for schools to further partially re-open to specific year groups on 1 June 2020.

‘The final decision to do this will be made by the government and will be based upon an analysis of scientific advice, nearer to that date.

‘If the government confirms that schools should re-open on a phased basis, and continue support for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, each school will inform its parents and carers of the arrangements they are able to put in place, having conducted the necessary risk assessments.’

The proposed timetable of return has been strongly criticised by headteachers and the teaching unions.

Click here to find out more about Portsmouth City Council’s stance.

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