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Delay return of primary schools : Newcastle Liberal Democrats call on Council to oppose 'reckless' Government policy

January 3, 2021 9:33 PM

Christine Morrissey canvassingAll primary schools should move to remote learning until 18 January and for Ministers should use that time to 'get ahead of the virus' and publish a clear plan to open schools safely say Newcastle Liberal Democrats, following calls from Liberal Democrats Deputy leader, Daisy Cooper MP, and teaching unions.

This reflects growing concern for safety in schools, including headteachers launching legal action to force ministers to reveal data behind the decision for some schools to reopen.

Liberal Democrats are concerned that minutes from the 74th SAGE meeting on COVID-19 on 22/12/20 identify the growing problem caused by the new variant and specifically items 11 and 12 state that, '...it is highly unlikely measures in England in November ( i.e. with schools open) would be sufficient to maintain R below 1 in the presence of the new variant'.

The Council has so far indicated that it will support any school which decides not to reopen due to their own risk assessment, but Liberal Democrats believe that this should go further. They are calling on the Council to lobby the Government to act on the concerns of schools, families and residents of the city about reopening schools and support a general switch to remote learning.

Liberal Democrats are calling for four things:

- Immediate reviewing of risk assessments which must be updated to reflect new information regarding the new variant;
- All primary schools to move to remote learning until Jan 18th, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers;
- A review of Government plans for Covid testing strategies in schools;
- A new pupil bubbling strategy to tackle the new Covid strain.

Cllr Christine Morrissey, Liberal Democrats shadow cabinet member for schools said:

'With the government's own scientific advisors saying that they cannot provide any analysis on what is required to control the new strain of the virus until mid-January, children, parents and teachers must be assured of their safety in schools and not be anxious, if not terrified, about returning this coming week. Once again, last minute, inconsistent decisions are being made 'on the hoof' which may wreak havoc on people's lives.

'Given this new strain of the virus transmits faster, Ministers must think again to get ahead of the virus. Moving primary schools to remote learning until 18 January would create time to review risk assessments, work out new pupil bubbling strategies and build trust in the Government's school COVID testing system.

'We all agree the best place for children to learn and develop is in school. However, at present we cannot ensure the safety of these children, their teachers and their families with our current mitigation measures and it would be irresponsible to go ahead and do so.'

Cllr Nick Cott, Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition, said:

'Schools have yet again been placed in an impossible position by the Government in being forced to open, against the best advice. We are pleased that the Council recognises that its duty is to support local schools in their risk assessments but the Council needs to lobby fully against the reckless government policy.

'There is too much at stake here with the progress of the virus, and we are urging the Government to review testing strategies in schools and publish a suitable and deliverable plan for schools returning.'