Labour’s lead member for Children and Young People, Cllr Adam Wilkinson, has today written to the Secretary of State for Education, pressing the need for urgent clarity about how the Government will help schools reopen for all children in September.

In the letter, Cllr Wilkinson warns that local planning to help schools fully reopen is being held back by the lack of a clear national plan for a safe return to school.

Cllr Wilkinson says, “We all want to see our children receiving a full education from September onwards. But for many of our schools this may not be possible under current guidance due to the size and design of the buildings. We need a clear national plan, with resources, that will enable our schools to prepare for September with confidence.

“I am also concerned that too many national initiatives are either not helping Calderdale at all, or are subject to confusion or delay. It has taken months to secure promised computers and other IT equipment for children who do not have access to it; and the recently announced holiday support scheme does not appear to apply to Calderdale or many other areas.

“I hope that Government will recognise that we need answers now, and that we will not see a repeat of the late and confusing guidance that has put heads and teachers under so much pressure over recent weeks.”

Cllr Wilkinson’s letter follows:-

Dear Mr Williamson

As a Council, we are keen to get all pupils back into schools by September, but this must be done in a way that puts the safety of all children, staff and parents first. I know this ambition is shared by the Government, but I need to warn you that at the moment our planning is held back by the lack of a clear national plan for the recovery of education outlining how a safe return to school can be achieved.

So I am writing to ask you for more clarity on how the Government will support our ambition to get more pupils back into school and what additional support will be provided for our children and young people during the holidays.

We welcome the announcement of the government’s catch up fund but we await more detail as to how this will be delivered. At the weekend we also learned of a national ‘Holiday Activities and Food Programme’ which is to assist disadvantaged children and support them in staying healthy and active. However, it was disappointing to see that this only appears to be being targeted in certain boroughs, and that many areas of high deprivation will not benefit, including those in Calderdale. With just a month now until the summer holidays, I would like clarity on whether there will be any support over the summer for children and young people in my area, particularly the most disadvantaged families and those of key workers.

At the start of lockdown we were pleased to hear that children with a social worker and disadvantaged year 10s would be provided with IT equipment where necessary to assist them with their studies. However it was not possible to order any of this equipment until earlier this month and it is still not possible to order tablets. The laptops ordered have only arrived in the past few days and we are still awaiting delivery of 4G routers. As it is now more than three months since schools closed to most pupils, can you confirm when this remaining vital equipment will arrive and explain the delay?

Finally I am seeking more certainty on how schools will be supported to allow more pupils back into the classroom. Currently schools are not allowed to make any changes that involve extra costs, non-school buildings or additional staff. I would ask that this is reviewed as a matter of urgency.

Due to the size and design of some of the smaller schools in my borough it will not be possible for them to welcome back a sufficient number of pupils even if the social distancing rules are relaxed down to one metre. Allowing us to explore the possibility of utilising other community and local authority buildings, and bringing in extra staff, would enable us to provide many more pupils with a proper education. Schools and local authorities should be supported and funded sufficiently to allow this to happen and this work needs to start now if we are to get all pupils back in September.

We now urgently need a national plan for the recovery of education outlining how a return to school can be achieved, utilising a blended approach where necessary which combines home schooling and time in school, and recognising the different challenges facing individual schools and authorities in achieving this.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Adam Wilkinson

Lead Member for Children and Young People’s Services, Calderdale Council

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