Concerns over reopening overcrowded primary schools in Northamptonshire after coronavirus shutdown

"This situation will clearly be exacerbated in those schools that are over capacity.”

Friday, 22nd May 2020, 10:26 am

Concerns have been raised by an education union about the additional difficulties of reopening oversubscribed primary schools in Northamptonshire.

Primaries are due to open their doors in less than two weeks, with children taught in groups of up to 15 and desks spaced further apart.

But with 11 per cent of Northamptonshire County Council-run schools are over capacity, the National Education Union (NEU) warns many simply will not have the space to reopen.

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Primary schools are due to start a phased return of pupils from June 1. Photo: stock

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary said: “The Government's current guidance for the wider opening of schools fails to address the necessity of social distancing.

“It is quite clear classes of 15 are impossible for many schools on grounds of space alone. This situation will clearly be exacerbated in those schools that are over capacity.”

“We all want some sort of normality back in our lives but the NEU believes the wider opening of schools should only occur when we see the scientific evidence that says it is safe to do so.”

Government plans for a phased return of pupils from June 1, beginning with selected year groups, have sparked a bitter row with unions and a growing list of local authorities have refused to reopen their primaries.

National Education Union joint general secretary Kevin Courtney

In total, 27 out of 257 Northamptonshire primaries were over capacity last year, analysis by JPIMedia of Government data shows.

While schools have remained open for certain pupils, such as the children of key workers, the NEU said it would be 'impossible' for many oversubscribed schools to open more widely while adhering to the new guidance.

The Department for Education said a school’s overall capacity did not relate to its ability to welcome a limited number of further students back from June.

Any schools unable to accommodate small groups were being given further guidance, a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said: “We want children back in schools as soon as possible because being with their teachers and friends is so important for their education and their wellbeing.

“Plans for a cautious, phased return of some year groups from June 1, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice.

"The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision-making.”

Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member for children's services Fiona Baker said: “Since lockdown began, schools in Northamptonshire have been going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that education is still accessible for local children.

“The government has asked schools to prepare to begin to open for more children from June 1.

"At Northamptonshire County Council, we believe that it is important for children to resume their education so they can learn and interact with their peers.

"However, this needs to be done in such a way that we minimise the risks to pupils, staff and parents as much as possible.

“To decide what is feasible, we are asking schools to carry out an initial comprehensive risk assessment so that leaders can evaluate potential solutions on how they can safely and effectively accommodate eligible pupils.

"We want schools, in the first instance, to take a phased approach to how many pupils they take back and from when.

“Schools have different numbers of vulnerable and key worker children, different numbers of staff who will not be able to attend school in person because they or a family member are in a vulnerable category and therefore shielding, and different abilities to implement social distancing.

“We can expect therefore, that there will not be one county-wide model for the initial phased re-opening of schools.

"However, Northamptonshire County Council will support schools to work towards gradually increasing pupil numbers at a pace their individual circumstances allow.

“I would like to reassure our residents that the most important factor for us is the safety and wellbeing of our children, teaching and support staff, and the wider community including parents, grandparents and carers."