Devon schools call for clarity on September reopening

colourful school gate hanging open

Posted on: 25 June 2020

Devon’s schools are calling on the Government to make it clear how they intend to get all pupils back in school in September.

Devon County Council’s deputy leader and Cabinet member for schools, James McInnes, has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson asking him for much greater clarity on how the return to class will be achieved.

The letter reads:

Dear Mr Williamson,

I am writing to you as deputy leader of Devon County Council and the Cabinet member responsible for schools.

I want to share with you the representations I am receiving from parents, heads, governors and school staff and appeal to you for urgent clarification about where we stand on your laudable ambition for all pupils to return to school in September.

You may already know that schools in Devon have done a remarkable job since the start of the pandemic in providing first for the children of key workers and vulnerable children and now for pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in our primaries and Years 10 and 12 in our secondaries.

Indeed, Devon has been so successful in providing classes that at one stage we had double the number of children in school as the national average and some of our schools are now running out of space.

So our schools and my hard-pressed education officers have done everything that has been asked of them, including giving parents the reassurances on safety they needed to send their children back to the classroom in the first place.

We now have just three weeks to go before the end of the academic year and no clear idea what we will need to cope with in September.

The reduction from two metres to one metre+ will obviously be of great benefit to our primary schools who should be able to expand their bubbles from 15 children to a more normal class size. But they might still not have all the teaching space they need to accommodate all their pupils and they will still have to plan the school day very carefully to keep children distanced when they start and finish and at break and meal-times. So does this mean a rota for children who will only be able to attend on certain days or certain weeks.

Primary classes, of course, usually have one teacher but for our secondary schools the problems are compounded. Students have different teachers for each subject and may have to move classrooms or go to laboratories. Secondary schools normally start planning rotas for teachers and class space in March for the following September depending on which subjects the students choose. Much of this has been impossible this year.

I am only too aware of the huge obstacles the Government has had to overcome during this unprecedented crisis and the vast amount of money that has been spent in supporting the people of this country. But I would point out that our children – and so their parents – have paid a very high price for protecting the health of this nation and particularly our older and more vulnerable people. The time is now right to re-balance that situation and put our children at the very forefront of our recovery plan.

That requires you as Education Secretary to give our schools clear and urgent guidance on exactly how you propose they welcome back our children in September and the measures – including financial support – that you propose to put in place so that we can begin the long road back to normality and restore the terrible loss of learning that our children have suffered as a result of this crisis.

Yours sincerely,

James McInnes

Posted in: Education | Politics