Mixed Reaction to Planned Reopening of Local Schools

Headteachers in Hammersmith & Fulham cautious about Government guidance

Messages Of Appreciation And Support On Wendell Park Primary School's gates

Headteachers in Hammersmith and Fulham have responded to the Government’s plans to reopen primary schools with a mixture of caution and pessimism.

A week after Boris Johnson announced that children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will return to school “from June 1”, teachers remain uncertain about how that will happen.

The Department for Education has released more guidance on how social distancing could be maintained, with measures such as:

• Having 15 children per classroom
• Staggering school arrival, departure times and break times
• More frequent cleaning of surfaces and removing soft toys and furnishings

There are primary 39 schools in the borough. And while every school is different, here we have looked at the answers that heads from across the borough have tried to provide for parents at their schools. Very few, if any, of Hammersmith and Fulham’s primary schools have a reopening date in their diary.

On May 17, Kathleen Williams, executive head of Fulham Bilingual School and Holy Cross Catholic Primary in Fulham, suggested to parents at both schools that they won’t reopen unless it’s safe.
“If the national guidance cannot be safely applied in our school, we will retain the power… to make decisions based on our own individual risk assessments,” Ms Williams said. “This may ultimately mean that [both schools] will not be in a position to expand pupil numbers in the way the government has indicated.”

On May 11, Karinne Faddy, the head of Ark Bentworth Primary Academy in White City, wrote that the Government’s plans “are not guaranteed and will depend on infection rates decreasing”.

Daniel Wright, head of London Oratory School in West Brompton, believes the Government’s plans to reopen schools will depend on further clearance from SAGE (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) which is due on May 28. “We may need a window that is wider than one weekend’s notice after the SAGE announcement on May 28,” Mr Wright said.

Phil Powell, interim principal of Ark Conway Primary Academy in Hammersmith, wrote on May 18: “We may not be able to accommodate all year groups [Reception, Year 1, Year 6] which the Government has identified.”

In addition to the Government’s guidelines, Dave Collins, head of Brackenbury Primary School in Hammersmith, wrote that he was considering having “different entrances” to the school. He also suggested having a “phased return of the year groups” to limit the number of pupils attending each day.

On May 15, Sir John Lillie Primary School in Fulham told parents “no school is envisaging that school life will be ‘back as usual’”. It suggested “days may be shorter, classes smaller, and the curriculum less comprehensive depending on staff available”.

Mr Wright from London Oratory School had a few more ideas, including “split classes, radical timetable adjustments and the possibility of alternate weeks in/out of School”.

Ms Faddy, from Ark Bentworth Primary Academy said: “We will not simply resume ‘business as usual’ at school. Careful planning and safety measures will need to be implemented”.

Most schools have stressed that they want to hear parents’ views. Some have indicated that parents will be able to keep their children at home, even if a child or their family don’t have an underlying health problem.

On May 15, Old Oak Primary School in East Acton asked parents: “Please tell us if you are happy for your child to return to school when/if the school is able to open safely for these year groups. If we know how many children to expect, we can plan for keeping these children and the staff safe in school.”

Mr Collins of Brackenbury Primary School wrote: “I want to be clear that as a school we are also not going to be pressuring anyone to send their children to school, since you know your children and your personal situation best.”

Ark Conway Primary Academy has asked parents to write to the school by May 21 and say if they intend to send their children to school.

The tone from every school was that they were caught off guard by the Prime Minister’s announcement on 11 May.

Wendell Park Primary School in Shepherd’s Bush even said: “As yet we have no more information than you do about this plan.” It suggests schools are finding out about this fast-moving situation at the same time as the public.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on 16 May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “There are some who would like to delay the wider opening of schools but there is a consequence to this.

“The longer that schools are closed the more children miss out. Teachers know this. Teachers know that there are children out there that have not spoken or played with another child of their own age for two months.

“They know there are children from difficult or very unhappy homes for whom school is the happiest moment in their week and it’s also the safest place for them to be.”

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

May 21, 2020