Coronavirus: Islington Council tells schools not to rush kids back to hit ‘arbitrary deadlines set by ministers’

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Ar

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald - Credit: Archant

Islington Council has “strongly advised” schools against “rushing” to reopen to more pupils to “hit arbitrary deadlines set by ministers” as the coronavirus lockdown is gradually eased.

The government wants primary schools in Islington and across the UK to reopen as early as June 1, with children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 returning first.

At secondary school and college, Years 10 and 12 would return first.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson says this is “based on the best scientific advice”, and it will be a “cautious, phased return”.

But Islington Council leader Richard Watts released a statement on Wednesday, March 20, saying: “The council has given advice to schools that goes beyond the inadequate advice currently published by the government, to support each school to make the right decisions about when to take more pupils in a way that prioritises safety of children, teaching staff and families.”

Cllr Watts says there is “clear” legal advice that the decision to open each school to more pupils rests with their governing bodies.

The Gazette has asked to see this advice.

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Cllr Watts added: “We don’t support rushing to hit arbitrary deadlines set by ministers, and have strongly advised schools against doing this.

“The decision taken by the governing body on the phased return will vary depending on the circumstances of each individual school with health and safety of the whole school community being the top priority.

“In Islington, there is a large number of multi-generational families and families with vulnerable adults, often living in overcrowded conditions, where social distancing at home is simply not an option. It is absolutely right the final choice on whether a child attends school sits with the families.”

He says the council won’t take action against parents or guardians who want to keep their children at home for the remainder of the academic year for safety reasons.

Mr Williamson says tests are already available to teaching staff, and will be rolled out for pupils and families who need them by June 1.

He 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.”