The leader of Cheshire East Council Sam Corcoran has claimed in an email obtained by Crewe News that attendance levels in Cheshire East schools on Monday 4th January showed that parents and teachers believed them to be safe.
The email sent to a fellow Labour councillor was in response to an open letter sent by members of the Labour Group appealing to him to close schools in order to stop the spread of coronavirus to protect children and staff.
The email said:
On Monday 4th January nearly all primary schools in Cheshire East opened and the attendance levels were very high. This shows that parents, teachers and head-teachers believed that Cheshire East schools were safe and is a tribute to the work done by Cheshire East Council, school leaders, parents groups and unions. The government has now announced a national lockdown and the closure of schools.
Since that email was sent by Cllr. Corcoran, Underwood West Academy in Crewe has confirmed in a message to parents sent on 7th January that a member of the school had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result of the positive test, those who have been identified as being in contact with the infected person have been asked to self-isolate.
A parent who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity told us:
We chose not to send our child to school on Monday after seeing the figures rise. We felt the only option we had to protect our children, ourselves, school staff and our wider community was to remove them from school.
I am saddened that it was left up to parents on Monday to make that decision, the threat of fines is always a worry but our children’s health and wellbeing is paramount.
A Key Stage 1 teacher who spoke to us on the condition we didn’t publish their identity said:
As a teacher, the worry and fear of COVID this time around is a lot higher amongst all staff. I returned to work, not because I thought it was safe, but because of the fear of the smear campaign in the media and to stand in solidarity with my colleagues who were also going in.
In addition, as a teacher putting children’s and families first is at the heart of everything we do.
I know lots of parents who sent their children in on Monday did so on the advice they received from government and the local authority which was reverted only a day later.
Speaking to Crewe News, Laura smith, Labour councillor for Crewe South said:
I had no doubt about joining several colleagues in signing the open letter calling for the council not to reopen schools to all children and supported the NEU position throughout.
I’ve spoken to many teaching staff and parents who have made clear to me their longstanding concerns about the possibility of preventing transmission in the school setting and am pleased the government eventually made the right call.
I’m only disappointed they made it so late.
Sarah Vaughan, the Cheshire East organiser for the National Education Union said:
The NEU has been warning about the growing rate of transmission in schools for a long time now. We have worked tirelessly in our attempts to open up lines of communication with central government and offered a solution-based approach.
We are grateful to all our education staff, parents and local leaders who made their voices heard and put pressure on the government to do the right thing to protect our communities during this current crisis.
A Headteacher from a local schoold told Crewe News:
School staff feel confused and let down by the DfE (Department for Education). To be told to open one day then to close to all but key worker/vulnerable the next has led to the most challenging week of my career.
Staff and parents are at high levels of anxiety, the ridiculous statements regarding who should access a place in school have led to confusion and anger from parents – the latest amendments saying keep them home if possible have come far too late.
Colleagues are exhausted and dreading the next week but they will be in offering excellent education to those in school and at home despite huge concerns for their own safety.
Crewe News has approached Cllr. Corcoran for comment.
Later on Friday evening, January 8th a member of the Cheshire East Council media term referred us to a statement issued on 5th January, the day after Cllr Corcoran sent the original email.
In that press release, Clrr Corcoran says:
Schools and colleges are the last places we want to close as we recognise the importance of attending school for children’s education and wellbeing.
At the same time, we recognise the national crisis this country faces and urge all residents to adhere to the new restrictions as well as maintaining social distancing at all times.
The full press release can be found here