At this time of crisis, it is essential that we get children back into schools across the Borough of Kingston at the earliest opportunity because each day that children are stuck at home, the disadvantage-gap grows wider, and the most vulnerable children risk falling through the cracks.
However, we must ensure that schools are safe for children to return en masse. The evidence around coronavirus transmitting less easily between children is not yet conclusive and I fear that the Government might be more anxious about parents returning to work than keeping children safe.
On top of the safety around children and their families, the safety of teachers and school staff is a big concern too. Many have been working throughout the coronavirus crisis teaching the children of key workers, but as more children start to return to school, the evidence behind the decision must be transparent.
I have written to the Government about this, and I continue to call on the Government to publish the scientific evidence that concluded it would be safe for teachers and students to return en masse as soon as 1st June.
Some schools do not have the number of staff, nor the physical space to allow for additional classes which would allow for social distancing with fewer students per class), and whilst I have welcomed the Government's suggestion of schools conducting risk assessments before opening, I'm not convinced that schools have had enough time to prepare.
Locally in Kingston I've spoken to Cllr Diane White, Portfolio Holder for Children's Services including Education, who's confirmed that schools across the borough are putting together their 'School Readiness Plans' and that they have been speaking to the parents with children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to understand how many might return next month in order to make sure that safety and wellbeing is the top priority for everyone.
Next week, I've invited Headteachers from across our area to talk with me about their concerns regarding children returning to school, so that I can raise these with the Government on their behalf.
Parents and teachers around the country are understandably worried about safety and the Government needs to reassure us the decision to open schools en masse to students as early as next month was based on scientific evidence, not economic necessity.