LGA: give councils power to close schools and nurseries when clusters of COVID-19 cases emerge

Councils will need the power to close schools or nurseries if testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases, the @LGAcomms says today

The LGA said there are concerns about how schools will be able to impose strict social distancing measures, particularly with younger and more vulnerable children, which pose a potential threat to staff and other children’s families if they take the virus home with them.

It wants local flexibility to allow some schools to take their own decisions about reopening – in consultation with their councils. 

Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“We know parents are anxious about sending their children back to school or nursery.

“Plans to re-open schools and early years settings must focus on reassuring parents that it will be safe for children to return to school. Publication of the scientific advice is vital to help provide that reassurance.

“The safety of staff, parents and families is absolutely paramount.

“Councils need to be able to close provision where testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases and it is vital that schools have the resources to provide staff with necessary protective equipment, as well as soap and hand sanitizer for cleaning.”

Commenting on the release by the Local Government Association, Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: ”We agree with the LGA that publication of the scientific advice is vital to help provide reassurance to the public. The government keeps citing Denmark and the Netherlands but those countries have experienced far fewer deaths per capita than the UK and therefore aren’t suitable comparisons. The UK has experienced 432 deaths per million of the population compared to 85 deaths per million in Denmark.

“Spain and Italy are the countries that have experienced a higher death rate per capita than the UK and both have closed their schools until September. We share the LGA’s concern to see the science and are not at all surprised parents are seeking more reassurance. A pediatric specialist group, formed to offer advice in Spain, concluded it would not be safe to open schools until September, as social distancing would be impossible.

“It’s very likely that schools are going to open and close at different rates in different parts of the country over the next year, because we may have several cycles of lockdown and ultimately the health and safety obligation sits with an individual head. Heads cannot operate their sites where it isn’t safe to do so, including if too many staff are absent because of health or they’re shielding others. The NEU thinks the government hasn’t got the right national arrangements in place yet to make this safe, as they haven’t even met their own tests. It simply isn’t fair to pass the risk and pressure onto individual head teachers.

“We agree with the LGA that we need to give local authorities a leading role. We have concerns that a wider opening of schools, too early, poses a lot of unanswered questions about the risks in poor communities. The DFE has not done nearly enough thinking about the emerging evidence about the racial disparities of the epidemic and what it means for schools with diverse pupil populations.”

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