Councillor Evonne Williams, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People:

Evonne Williams
Evonne Williams

In Derby we have what we call our family of schools – now more than ever, this family needs our support.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, our headteachers, teachers and school staff have been doing amazing work to keep our schools open for key workers’ children and vulnerable children, whilst organising online learning and support for those children who are staying at home. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to each and every one of the staff members for going above and beyond their duty and educating in this bizarre world we find ourselves in.

Being in education is important for all children, and in particular for the future outcomes of children who have fewer advantages in life, however, we also understand and appreciate that parents and teachers have real concerns about the return to school.

We support the Government in its ambition to see schools opened up to more pupils as soon as it is sufficiently safe to do so. It is our duty to fully support headteachers and governing bodies to ensure they are able to put complete safety measures in place, which will allow a gradual return to school in a safe and sustainable way. This isn’t about meeting an arbitrary national deadline, but finding the right balance for schools, pupils and families of safety and access to learning and support.

This is an incredibly complicated issue to work through. Derby’s Quality, Standards and Performance team, led by Pauline Anderson OBE, has been working in partnership with our local Public Heath team, health and safety advisors, headteachers, governing bodies and local teaching unions, to carefully discuss what can be done to ensure children’s and staff’s safety and to build the confidence of everyone involved.

Every school has been asked to complete a detailed risk assessment to help them with preparations, which will give both schools and us a clear idea of the risks and where further support is needed. Derby City Council has provided a capacity planning tool to support schools in calculating how many children they can safely accommodate in line with social distancing.

We know that our headteachers and governing bodies know their individual schools best. We will stand by our schools and the ultimate decisions they make to manage a gradual return to school for children, which will be based on what is best for children and on public health evidence and advice. It is also a decision for parents, and our schools are best placed to have discussions with parents who might have concerns about their children returning, including the impact on vulnerable or shielding people at home.

We will make every endeavour to help schools gradually reopen to more year groups in line with Government guidance. Schools may have to prioritise the pupils they admit from Monday 1st June and will need to admit children of key workers and children from vulnerable groups before any others. We will continue to support schools in planning to re-open classrooms and to ensure that all decisions are based on the safety of children and staff.

Finally, I want to thank our parents and carers. They have played and extremely important role throughout the pandemic – now as schools begin the phased reopening, I want to reiterate to parents that this is their choice.  There is no right or wrong answer and they must do what they feel is right for their child and family. I hope that the work that has taken place within the schools, and which has been communicated to parents and carers will give them the assurances they need to make informed decisions.