Councillor David Mellen, also Portfolio Holder for Schools, said:
Covid infection levels in Nottingham currently remain below the national average and infection levels among primary school children are lower still. We nevertheless understand the anxiety for both parents and school staff about tomorrow’s planned return to school for primary pupils and we know what a difficult time it has been for school staff over the past year in the face of unprecedented pressure brought about by Covid.
School is the best place for children if it is safe for them to be there, and school leaders have become skilled at making risk assessments. The weekend has brought understandable calls from teaching unions for national clarity on closures and, together with the Nottingham Schools Trust, we have written to local authority headteachers to offer support for their decision-making based on risk assessment.
Given the Government’s decisions to allow school closures in other areas in Tier 4, there is understandable confusion about why this has not happened in Nottingham.
We have reiterated the Government guidance as it stands and made absolutely clear that we will support any headteacher who feels it necessary to close, if their risk assessment dictates that it is not safe to open. We will also support school leaders who decide that they have enough staff and can safely open part or all of their school. Local headteachers and governors know their schools better than anyone else, and will understand the impact of any staff absence.
While vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers will be prioritised as they have been since the start of the pandemic, we stand behind our headteachers in whatever decision they need to take in the coming days and weeks. Parents should check their child’s school website to see the latest updates and at this time there will be no fines for parents who keep their children at home if they have concerns about Covid-19.
Additional – and completely avoidable – pressure is being piled on school leaders by the Government’s confused stance. We were told last week that there would be consistency and clarity across Tier 4 areas, but we are not seeing that with closures in areas like London but not elsewhere.
I call on the Government to recognise the incredible job Nottingham schools have done in the past year, and urge them not to make this any harder. Teachers and other school staff should be a priority in the Government’s plan for vaccination. There needs to be a level of bold and decisive national leadership for our children’s education – yet again we have not seen it from this Government.