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Suffolk headteachers ‘blindly running through the dark’ in attempt to control COVID-19 outbreak

PUBLISHED: 09:35 24 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:43 24 March 2020

Headteachers across Suffolk have struggled under the pressure today. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ ISTOCKPHOTO MONKEY BUSINESS

Headteachers across Suffolk have struggled under the pressure today. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ ISTOCKPHOTO MONKEY BUSINESS

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Suffolk headteachers have been “blindly running through the dark” today under the pressure of caring for the children of key workers and the vulnerable whilst attempting to control the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jacqui Frost is the executive officer for the Suffolk Primary Headteacher's Association. Picture: CARMEL JANE PHOTOGRAPHYJacqui Frost is the executive officer for the Suffolk Primary Headteacher's Association. Picture: CARMEL JANE PHOTOGRAPHY

All schools in the UK are now closed but will continue to provide care for key workers and vulnerable people who have no childcare options – however, the vague definitions and lack of specific guidance has left many Suffolk schools in a “dizzy spin” today.

Jacqui Frost, executive officer for the Suffolk Primary School Headteacher’s Association, said: “All I have been doing today is speaking to headteachers who are overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.

MORE: Read all of the latest updates on coronavirus in Suffolk

“They are stepping up and doing what they can but they are increasingly concerned that they don’t have protective equipment or infection control guidance – they’re trying to do all of this in the dark and they’re running blind.”

The government has so far provided no specific guidance on how often school equipment should be cleaned including toilet facilities, door handles or other shared objects.

Alongside concerns that teachers are risking both their own and students’ safety through a lack of knowledge, there have been many parents attempting to gain their child a place to come into school.

MORE: Join our coronavirus updates Facebook group for more news

One headteacher agreed to speak about the hectic situation, but refused to be named. This is how they described what was happening at their school.

“I have over 200 children on roll and 60 of those, according to their parents, are children of ‘key workers’ – today we have cared for less than 10.

“I think parents are panicked and are grasping at straws to keep their kids in school and it is the employers who are abusing these vague guidelines of what a key worker is and whether that entitles them to a place at school.

MORE: Where are Suffolk’s inadequate and outstanding schools?

“We are not a crisis care facility.

“I have had to make the horrible decision about which of my staff to choose to work directly in contact with children, therefore who to put at risk.”

Suffolk County Council responded to the situation by saying: “SCC believes that there needs to be a greater clarity of the definition of the term key workers and has asked the Department for Education for further information on behalf of school leaders in Suffolk.

“The fewer children making the journey to school, and the fewer children in educational settings, the lower the risk that the virus can spread and infect vulnerable individuals in wider society.

“Schools that are able to open should continue to follow Public Health England Advice with regards to cleanliness and infection control.”

Gavin Williamson, education secretary, referred schools to the guidance published by the Department for Education here or to the coronavirus helpline on 0800 046 8687 and said online resources would be continuously updated.

He added: “Early indications are that the number of children attending school today is low, and we thank parents for making the right choice and playing their part in our fight against coronavirus.

“People must do everything they can to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

“We are closely monitoring the situation on the ground and will continue to work with local authorities to ensure schools get the help and support they need over the challenging weeks and months ahead.”

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