Schools 'well versed' and ready for March 8 reopening, headteachers say
Suffolk and north Essex headteachers have said schools are "well-versed" and prepared for a safe reopening as coronavirus lockdown measures are lifted on March 8.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week all students will return to classrooms next month in the first step of England's roadmap out of restrictions.
As part of the plans, students at secondary schools and colleges will be given Covid-19 tests three times in the first two weeks.
But the National Education Union (NEU) has said the government is not following scientific advice and has called for students to return in phases to prevent future closures.
Simon Martin, headteacher at Debenham High School, said testing 800 staff and students three times in 12 days would be a "complicated" task.
He said: "We're quite well versed - we'll do everything we can to keep our students and staff safe.
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"The complicated part will be testing when staff and students come back. It's going to be challenging, but manageable.
"If it was once a week, it would be much easier to manage.
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"We're in a similar position to where we were in September. If the scientific evidence suggests students go back, we've got to make it happen."
Philip Hurst, headteacher at Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, said the school was "very much focussed" on delivering a safe learning environment.
He said: "Plans for the wider reopening of schools are going well and we are looking forward to welcoming students back.
"We are very much focussed on ensuring quality provision within a safer environment.
"The teamwork from the senior team, staff, parents, trustees and the students themselves has been remarkable. I have actually been quite humbled to have served the school as its head during these extraordinary times."
Anna Hennell James, chief executive of the Orwell Multi Academy Trust and former headteacher, said the trust's primary schools were introducing staggered pick-up times and extra cleaning stations ahead of March 8.
She added: "We will have in place the risk assessment from September to make the schools as safe as possible.
"The main challenge is going to be be about building confidence in parents. It's about making sure they are confident when they hand their children over to us."
Paul Fykin, headteacher of Ipswich's Rushmere Hall Primary School, said he was looking forward to welcoming his students back - but expressed concerns that their prolonged time at home may affect their education.
He said: "We are ready to go. We have slightly more capacity than some other schools to reopen.
"Remote learning was successful, but we are looking forward to going back. The kids want to be back in school.
"For us, the main challenge will be not knowing the story of what's happened at home. We want to capture as much info as possible."
The NEU has said a phased return of schools, which is happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, would be "sensible" and called a wider re-opening a "gamble".
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: "Time and again in this pandemic the government has not followed the science, closing schools too late and then opening them too early.
"The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are reopening their schools in a phased way as SAGE has recommended.
"This is the sensible way forward for England, too. We all want to see schools and colleges open, but it must be done sustainably.
"Boris Johnson has pressed ahead with this gamble on the wider opening of schools and colleges in one swoop and ignored the advice for a phased return."
Jerry Glazier, Essex branch secretary for the NEU, added: "The 'big bang' of 10million kids and adults returning to schools at once is not a good idea.
"What we would much prefer is a phased return to see how that affects infection rates. We want a safe and sustainable reopening.
"We want schools to operate as fully as possible - the constant yo-yoing isn't helping."