Headteachers bombard Cambridgeshire County Council ‘with significant volume of emails’ with concerns over schools re-opening

Schools boss Jonathan Lewis has revealed how he was bombarded with a significant volume of emails fr

Schools boss Jonathan Lewis has revealed how he was bombarded with a significant volume of emails from headteachers. Picture: CCC/PA - Credit: Archant

Headteachers bombarded Cambridgeshire County Council expressing their concerns over schools re-opening, says a report by education chief Jonathan Lewis.

The county’s director of education summed up what he describes as ‘risks/challenges (and mitigation)’ in a paper prepared for county councillors.

“Anxiety in leaders / staff in schools is a huge concern – the announcement of school reopening has caused a huge amount of concern in schools,” he said.

Mr Lewis outlined his views in a report circulated to councillors last week.

“We continue to speak to headteachers and settings on a regular basis and reply to a significant volume of emails to support their concerns.”

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Mr Lewis was speaking ahead of the announcement by education secretary Gavin Williamson on Tuesday of what is regarded as a U-turn on planned re-opening of schools

Mr Williamson said that not all children would be able to return to school this summer with many expected now to have to wait until at least September.

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The situation in Cambridgeshire on different fronts was explained by Mr Lewis who also referred to the financial viability of providers in early years education.

“Due to the challenges of government funding and uncertainty over numbers, we have prepared business cases in both local authorities for providing sustainability funding to those providers that need it,” he said.

“We also intending investing in further marketing of early years provision from September to ensure high take up”.

He said that even opening building used by early years providers presented difficulties.

“We are having some challenges getting landlords to reopen buildings to support early years provision,” he said.

However, he was pleased to report that “we have managed to resolve the issues around early years provision based in church buildings”.

Mr Lewis also referred to what he describes as the “school wrap around provision – under the government guidance, schools are required to form bubbles and keep children in the same group”.

The downside to this, he said, was that existing out of school clubs (breakfast and after school clubs) cannot operate with these bubbles due to the staff needed to maintain the bubbles being unviable.

“We have asked the DfE for advice,” he said. “This means parents will have to consider shorter working hours if there isn’t any alternative childcare available.”

He also said the county council continued to work with those schools – not identified – that were facing financial difficulties.

“We are unable to undertake restructures during the period of closure,” he said. “The grants available to schools are limited to cleaning, meals and increased premises costs results from opening in holidays and run out in May.”

Mr Lewis said that all maintained schools in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough had developed plans for reopening and risk assessment.

“These have been reviewed by our school improvement teams and shared with the trade unions,” he said.

“Our early years team have provided advice and are working well with settings on their plans for reopening.”

Noting that services to support early years and schools were “up and running” he added that some services will not be available until the new academic year and only then if schools are fully re-opened.

Mr Lewis also pointed out that 90 per cent of nursery and primary schools had altered the timing of their school days.

Around half will be reducing the length of the school day and around 40 per cent of schools will be closing for half a day to allow for cleaning and to allow teacher to plan and prepare for in class and home learning.

And nearly 50 per cent schools are using teaching assistants to lead classroom learning: three quarters of schools will have a reduced curriculum.

He also revealed that 250 headteachers from nursery, primary and special schools was held on May 29.

“Updates were provided on DfE advice on reopening, risk assessments, the new test and trace procedures and the local position with Covid-19,” he said.

The education department was communicating daily with schools and settings giving updates and interpretation on government guidance.

“We have provided support this week on shielded pupils, SEND support, first aid, GDPR for keeping records around pupil contact, attendance recording, updates to school behaviour and complaints policies,” he said.

Advice had also been given on staff risk assessments, signage and “a series of webinars from our education psychology teams to support with challenges in returning to school”.

On a brighter note he told councillors that in Cambridgeshire “daily positive news stories from education continue to be published”.

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