West Country schools delay reopening due to 'serious concerns' about rise in coronavirus cases

Air Balloon Primary School, one of the biggest in Bristol, told parents on Sunday night. Credit: Google Maps

A number of schools in the region have delayed reopening today (Monday 4 January) due to safety concerns about the spread of coronavirus as cases continue to rise.

In a joint statement just released, education unions have called for a "pause" to the reopening of schools for anyone other than vulnerable children and those of key workers.

It comes after Boris Johnson urged parents to send primary-age children back for the start of term.

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said school closures put 'children's lives on hold'. Credit: PA images

The head of one of Bristol's biggest primary schools, Air Balloon Hill, cited "serious concerns" as his reason for staying closed today.

In a letter to parents on Sunday 3 January Tim Browse said: "Throughout the weekend, teachers and school leaders have been in conversation with their unions and thegovernment to establish some clear safety measures that will help keep their school communities safe.

"At present, for the vast majority of schools, there has been no new guidance for schools and, for many members of the education profession, this is a real worry.

"For that reason, I have made the decision that Monday 4th January will now be an INSET day. No children should attend school tomorrow or Space Cadets.

"This will allow the school to take on board new guidance, which I understand will be coming to schools tomorrow via the Local Authority, and put in place measures that will enable all children to be educated safely."

Read the full letter

The full letter written to parents of children at Air Balloon Hill Primary School in Bristol. Credit: Air Balloon Hill Primary School

Teaching unions, local councils and teachers across the region are calling for a government rethink on the return to school.

But Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman has warned that education cannot be “furloughed” for months while Covid-19 vaccinations are rolled out.

There are problems with staff numbers, though.

In the West Country several schools have been forced to close, or at least partially close, because of staff shortages.

Littledean C of E Primary School in Gloucestershire has announced some of its classes will be limited to remote learning, along with Gastrells Community Primary School in Stroud.

The staff shortages are worrying some of those who are able to return to work.

Speaking anonymously to the PA news agency, a teacher from Bristol said the most recent term had been "horrendous" and that she is now taking medication due to anxiety.

"I've nearly quit teaching multiple times and the potential of having a skeleton staff, so no support with behaviour or no teaching assistant, is slightly terrifying," she told the agency.

She added: "I'm moderately vulnerable and have an individual risk assessment so I've said I'll come in if they reduce contact with parents and no mixing of adults in my bubble."

Boris Johnson insisted education is a "priority". Credit: PA images

The 26-year-old teacher also said she "did not feel right" not being back in school to support her vulnerable pupils. "I know how awful my kids' home situation is. I don't feel right not being there for them", she said.

The year two teacher said others have expressed similar concerns about the return to school.

She said: "Our teacher Whatsapp group has been pinging all day with messages of confusion and stress."

Most primary schools in the region are expected to still open today while secondary schools are reopening on a staggered basis.

Schools will remain open for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, as they did when they were shut in the spring and early summer.

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