Calderdale Councillor calls for more government clarity on schools reopening

His letter says currently schools are not allowed to make any changes that involve extra costs, including using non-school buildings or additional staff.

A clear national plan needs to be made available to guide councils as they prepare for children to return to schools in September, says a senior council Cabinet member.

Calderdale councillor Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) says local planning for the start of the new school year at the end of summer is being hampered by the absence of a national plan, which must be resourced.

The council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Wilkinson has written to Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, asking for clarity about how locating and using extra space to get children back to school safely might be done and resourced.

In particular, his letter says currently schools are not allowed to make any changes that involve extra costs, including using non-school buildings or additional staff.

In Calderdale, even if the two metre social distancing rule introduced at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic lockdown is relaxed to one metre, other community buildings, potentially needing extra staff to be employed, would have to be used, he argues.

The size and design of many Calderdale schools precludes otherwise, he wrote.

Coun Wilkinson says the council and the Government both want to see children back at their desks but these obstacles must be overcome.

“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,” he said.

Coun Wilkinson also raises issues about national initiatives, arguing Calderdale is missing out on the recently-pledged national Holiday Actiities and Food Programme set up by the Government.

In his letter to Mr Williamson, Coun Wilkinson said the scheme was welcomed but added: “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.”

Government is supplying equipment including laptops, tablets and dongles to disadvantaged children to help them with their education in lockdown – 600 pieces having been ordered by Calderdale – but some of this kit, 4G routers, is still awaited, said Coun Wilkinson.

In May, Calderdale was one of the first councils to issue advice saying it did not think it was safe for more children in certain age groups to return to school by the Government’s target date of June 1.

Government then announced nationally that this was unlikely to happen on the same day the council advice changed to saying it was now safe with the relevant data being made available to allow it to make that judgement.

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