Primary school heads and teachers are looking forward to welcoming some of their pupils back from this morning.
Most of the borough’s 79 primary schools and academy settings are throwing open their doors to welcome children from reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back into formal education, with most doing a phased return.
The government set an ambition for more pupils to begin to return to school from today after confirming that the country and had met the five tests they set out. The council’s education team has also sought the guidance of the local Public Health team to ensure this has been met locally.
66 schools are planning a phased return over the next week, opening to at least one of the three target year groups, with the remaining schools to follow suit over the coming weeks. The council is currently working with their senior leadership teams, core council services and the DfE to facilitate their opening as soon as possible.
For weeks, schools have been working with the local authority and a number of agencies to put all the necessary protocols in place in order for this to happen safely. The council’s Public Health team has been providing advice, the Department for Education has given guidance, the council’s corporate landlord services has provided practical support such as additional hand washing facilities and cleaning facilities and the council’s education team has been supporting schools throughout.
Senior leadership within schools, with the support of school governing bodies has ensured bespoke risk assessments for each individual school to ensure that pupils and staff can return, and learn, safely. Councillor Ruth Buttery, cabinet member for children’s services, said:
"We know that this has been a challenging time for children and families. Parents have done an amazing job of continuing their children’s education at home, supported by so many dedicated teaching staff. However, we recognise that the time is right for some of our pupils to return to an education environment.
"We know they’ve missed their friends, the challenges of learning and the reassuring routine of the school day, and our schools have felt different places without them.
"Our education staff have been working tirelessly behind the scenes with colleagues in public health, corporate landlord services, our headteachers and the department for education to ensure when able to, we could expand the number of children in schools safely. This has been a really positive, holistic collaboration with the children at its heart."
During the pandemic schools have been keeping in regular touch with parents and children, setting virtual homework, educational tasks and fun learning activities to boost their spirits, sharing their own and virtual resources to assist with learning. Those children who are yet to return to school will continue to receive this virtual education, with return dates set to be confirmed by the government and implemented by individual schools at a local level.
Schools have been working closely with Dudley Council to ensure that the most vulnerable children are not forgotten, with children entitled to free school meals continuing to get lunches, food parcels or meal vouchers throughout the pandemic. All schools have been planning for the return of their children since closures began and have been in touch with parents regarding those children set to return after half term.
Individual schools have surveyed parents in relation to numbers expected to return. Schools are anticipating 50% of eligible pupils to return when they reopen, with numbers to increase as the weeks pass. Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said:
"Thanks to all the school staff, our education team and colleagues in Public Health and at the DfE for their ongoing work to ensure that schools continued to provide support to all pupils over these last two months and who have pulled out all the stops to ensure that they are able to open to these target year groups.
"Most schools remained open to provide childcare and educational support for the most vulnerable children and the children of key workers and these children will continue to attend school."
Speaking on Black Country Radio, councillor Harley reiterated that parents will not be fined if they choose not to send their children back to school immediately.