LETTER: ‘One death in our close-knit community would be one death too many’ Fenland teaching assistant tells education minister Gavin Williamson
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Teaching assistant Ruth Johnson, a March town councillor and parliamentary candidate for NE Cambridgeshire for the Green Party, has written an open letter to Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, on the issue of schools re-opening.
Dear Mr Williamson, I hope this email finds you and your family safe and well. I am employed as a teaching assistant at All Saints Inter-Church Academy, in March, Cambridgeshire.
It is a wonderful, close knit school, with very much a sense and feel of community. My son also attends this school and is currently in Year 3.
I thoroughly enjoy working there - I feel valued by the adults, and the children are warm, well-mannered and well behaved. The school ethos is “love that is patient and kind and never gives up”.
I wanted to write to you in respect of the suggested date of June 1, for the re-opening of primary schools, for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
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In my professional opinion, it is impossible to maintain social distancing for children who are in reception and year 1. Children of this age require assistance with many tasks as you can imagine - tying a shoelace, comfort when they are upset, cutting up food, obtaining objects, using scissors, putting coats on, dressing for P.E.
You have children of your own, I am sure you are aware the list is endless! They are also of an age where you could not effectively keep them two metres away from their friends.
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At this juncture, I am aware it is a ‘maybe’ for the phased return to school , however, if reception, year 1 and year 6 returned to All Saints, that would mean approximately 100 pupils (we have a two class intake for year 6), plus 30 staff. It would be impossible to keep the children and staff correctly socially distanced from one another.
My concern is exposure of Covid-19 to a high number of children and adults in our school community. Also, the risk of a child taking the virus back into their house where a vulnerable/shielded person lives.
Our school community is made up of some key workers who work for the NHS, prison officers, paramedics, shop workers etc, all high-risk occupations. Realistically, it would be exposing children, staff and parents/carers putting everyone at risk in our community.
I do not feel confident, at this moment in time, that we are prepared with the right equipment and guidance for children to return to school. Schools are breeding grounds for germs, even with stringent measures implemented, you would be putting lives in danger.
Stringent measures would need to implemented before any considered re-opening of schools; what is your guidance here?
Will staff be provided with P.P.E? What is your guidance for break times? First aid? Lunch time? How do we keep young children socially distanced from each other? Would P.P.E be enough? One death in our close-knit community would be one death too many.
In my professional capacity, it will be impossible to keep young children socially distanced - and the risk is simply too great.
What is to be gained by six weeks of education before the summer break for these children? A common-sense approach would be to keep schools closed until September. Frankly, we currently feel like lambs to the slaughter. Teaching staff are neither babysitters nor childminders. Essentially, that is how we are being utilised at present.
If Parliament remains closed, because of the risk of the virus, then how can schools possibly re-open?
I implore you to revise and discuss this proposed return date further with your colleagues in Parliament.
I speak from my heart as a professional, parent, colleague, councillor and parliamentary candidate.
Many people within the community have reached out to me to raise their concerns. I have also contacted my MP Stephen Barclay to voice my concerns.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Cllr Ruth Johnson
Teaching Assistant, March Town Council, Parliamentary Candidate for North East Cambridgeshire for the Green Party