‘WE are pleased to reiterate that we fully support the National Education Union’s five key tests that should be met before the national decision is taken to further reopen schools, indeed the vast majority of Hackney Labour Councillors joined us in signing the open letter which Deputy Mayor Bramble and Cllr Woodley helped to virtually deliver,’ say Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor of Hackney and Cabinet Member for Education, Young People and Children’s Social Care, and Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney.
Writing to the NEU, they add: By announcing a date to further reopen schools before giving school leaders or councils national public health guidance on social distancing, the Prime Minister left school leaders in the unenviable position of expecting to open their schools to more pupils without a plan to do so with the safety of their staff and children in mind.
While guidance has at last come from the Government in the intervening period many questions remain unanswered.
Hackney Council is stepping in to provide support in the absence of national guidance and clarity from the Government. Officers and politicians have been meeting with headteachers to provide advice and local public health guidance in the absence of national material. However local support can only ever supplement national guidance.
In addition, to publicly supporting the NEU’s campaign and tests, we also made all of this clear in the letter that we wrote to Gavin Williamson MP, Secretary of State for Education, on 14th May – see here: https://www.hackney-labour.org.uk/give-us-clear-guidance-on-schools-re-opening-insists-hackneys-mayor-and-deputy-mayor/
We have also raised these concerns with Rebecca Long Bailey Shadow Minister of Education and other relevant Shadow Ministers and through the Local Government Association. At the same time, while we understand your view that Hackney’s schools should not further reopen until 15th June, we do not want to promote another seemingly arbitrary date.
Cllr Anntoinette Bramble
We believe that schools should reopen when it is safe to do so ─ when the national and regional infection rate is significantly reduced and social distancing can be clearly maintained in a school setting. At the moment, it is unclear whether this can be specified to a single date.
While that ‘R’ rate has substantially fallen to as low as 0.4 in London, we believe the Government should be providing more data at a localised level to create more confidence with schools, staff, pupils, parents and carers.
At the same time, we should be in no doubt that the decision by a Headteacher to keep a school closed is just as difficult as the decision to open it to more pupils.
Parents have rightly raised concerns with us about the difficulties in home-schooling, particularly given the ‘digital divide’ which Hackney Council has been working hard to address, and the broader inequalities. You may have also seen the concerning news of falling child protection enquiries, attributed largely due to a fall in referrals initiated by schools https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2020/05/21/significant-fall-child-protection-enquiries-particular-concern-council/
With this in mind, and the need for a balanced approach, we wrote to Headteachers and Principles on 22nd May, making it clear that the NEU’s tests should be met before the Government’s decision is confirmed, and before any schools are expected to open to more children.
We of course await the government’s decision on Thursday and will respond accordingly.
We completely recognise the disproportionate impact of this virus, particularly on the diverse communities in Hackney.
That is why as well as our work with schools to make them as safe as possible, we have also been lobbying on behalf of these communities, taking a system wide look at how we can protect staff, another critical aspect of our letter to schools.
We submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on people with protected characteristics. Once this has been published, you will be able to find our submission here https://committees.parliament.uk/work/227/unequal-impact-coronavirus-covid19-and-the-impact-on-people-with-protected-characteristics/publications/
At the same time, Cllr Carole Williams wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ask them to hold an independent investigation into the Government’s response to the pandemic, and if their actions added to the disproportionate impact on Hackney’s diverse communities – see here https://www.hackney-labour.org.uk/hackney-labour-equalities-lead-calls-on-watchdog-to-investigate-government-coronavirus-response/
Since then, we have met with the London Regional Director of Public Health England to contribute to their review into the disproportionate impact from Hackney’s perspective.
I hope this is helpful, and shows that safety remains paramount and illustrates clearly the strong local leadership we have shown. We, like you, now await the Government’s response to its own tests, the challenge SAGE has made and also how they respond to the tests the NEU and others like Hackney have set.
We will also continue to listen to all those involved and want to understand more how schools respond to the various challenges they face over the next few weeks.
26 May 2020
Later story in the Hackney Citizen (29 May) –
Local authorities should have the power to close any school that suffers a Covid outbreak, according to Deputy Mayor, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble.
She said: “It’s important for us locally to be able to respond to outbreaks. If there is an outbreak at a local level, you want to be able to respond to that quite swiftly rather than having to wait for government to instruct you to do so.
“Ultimately you hope there will be no outbreaks, but if there are, something that the Local Government Association (LGA) thinks is quite sensible is giving that local flexibility to be able to respond to any emerging trends that they see. As testing, tracking and tracing emerges and you see those trends, you want to be able to respond as and when.
“The government would have to think about how they would manage independent schools, but you want the [power] with any school, otherwise it would undermine the process.”