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Reassurance over coronavirus outbreaks at schools as 1,500 self isolate

Parents have been reassured that children are safe in school despite the fact 1,500 pupils across Peterborough are currently self isolating because of Covid outbreaks.
Education Director at Peterborough City Council assures school are safe despite high number of isolating pupils (Picture: PA Media)

Education Director at Peterborough City Council Jonathan Lewis stressed that this number represents a very small proportion of our school population when you look at the "context of the total number of students in the city".

He offered his reassurance that relevant measures are in place for the safety of everyone. 

The latest figures from Peterborough City Council released on Tuesday, November 24, show a total of 90 staff and 1,526 pupils self-isolating in Peterborough from 41 schools during the week starting November 16.   

This has slightly dropped from 1,818 recorded within 46 schools in the week commencing November 9. 

Mr Lewis also stressed that despite high number of self-isolating students, the transmission rates are ‘extremely low’ and praised the hard work of the local authority and schools for keeping staff and pupils safe. 

Speaking to Peterborough Matters, Mr Lewis said: “It’s really fair to say, Peterborough schools have been exceptional. I have just had a conversation with the Department of Education who see Peterborough often as a beacon of excellence - we have worked together. 

"The number of schools we have opened, the number of students back at schools in summer, and the attendance we have had is quite positive. We definitely come in the top 20% of authorities. 

“We have seen more cases, but that’s in line with the regional infection trend. 

“But I am pleased to say that the transmission rates among schools is incredibly low, between classrooms and staff rooms- and that reflects the hard work that has been put in place. And we would class them as single outbreaks. 

“Not a single school has had to close. There are in fact some schools that have no cases in the city, while there are some with a few more than others. But the figures show 1,500 pupils are self-isolating out of about 35,000 across the city - you can see how small the proportion is. 

“For us, health and safety always come first. We are not rushing to keep things open and making rash decisions. I am proud we have looked at the safe ways of keeping education open. We work hard to send out PPE, reassuring messages to parents and staff, but we are worried parents might be anxious after hearing reports that some teachers feel uncomfortable with rising case numbers. 

“I want to assure them that safety is paramount.  No other local authority checked to make sure the risk assessments are safe and monitor them regularly. I understand people are worried, but a lot of work has been done and we have gone above and beyond. 

“Good example of this, is that critically vulnerable staff has been wanting to come back to work. Teachers hated being at home and away from the schools. They missed their children and glad to be back.” 

Sophy Ross, a Year 6 teacher from St John's School in Peterborough shared her views and said she is happy to be back at work and said the school has been working hard to ensure everyone is safe. 

Ms Ross said: “We have had a success so far. There are a number of measures in place including staggered start time, we have created small bubbles - we have a regressive implementation plan and monitor it regularly and see what’s working and how. 

“It’s about being prepared and make sure it’s been made safe. We are communicating clearly with our parents with simple posters and key messages regularly. Gaining their trust has been key.” 

Children have been ‘extremely adaptable’ and have really ‘come on board’ with all the measures including hand washing, distancing and other rules brought in to keep everyone safe. 

She added: “For me personally, schools are doing a lot to make sure we are safe. We have our meetings online. We have our PPE in place to keep ourselves safe.  

“I wanted to get on with it. I want to make sure it hasn’t had a lasting impact. I don’t feel pressure and that’s part of my duty.” 

Previously, a teacher from Peterborough who wished to stay anonymous highlighted her concerns of going into school to teach, adding that reopening schools was not the best idea, despite extensive social distancing measures brought in. 

Mr Lewis said: “Absolutely agree. Children are safer at schools. We have got to think about the long-term benefits- we wouldn't have opened them if we didn’t think it was safe. 

“Right until the last minute on September 3, I was taking Public Health advice, monitoring to see if things were safe. We haven't had lots of issues. We haven’t had to close a school in Peterborough - we have had to close bubbles but that’s in line with the national guidance.  

“Since reopening back in the summer, we have looked at what support is needed by students. The first two weeks of school were all about checking people were OK, and trying to slowly roll them back into classrooms, working with them throughout.  

“And we are continuing to work with schools and families, offering relevant support to pupils who need to stay at home. We have distributed laptops. There’s a lot going on to ensure children don’t miss out on studies.” 

He said the response from parents and families has been very positive and encouraging so far.

Mr Lewis said: “Parents are quite happy- and positive- they want their children back in schools. It has brought back some form of routine to families post lockdown. 

“Understandably, parents had quite a few questions and were anxious. I have written to them four times during this period, keeping them informed of the measures and updates to reassure them that we are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and to tell them that schools are the best place for their children. 

“Parents have written to us telling us they feel positive, which has been encouraging.” 

Earlier in the month, Peterborough City Council confirmed, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in the number of parents opting for elective home education (EHE). 

Between July 1 and October 15 there were 167 new registered EHE cases in the city, bringing the total number of children and young people being educated at home to 487. 

Previously, a spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said: "We can confirm we have seen an increase in our region of the number of parents choosing to take responsibility for their child's education at home, as is also being observed nationally. The education and safety of our children is and will always be our top priority, but we are limited in our role with Elective Home Education parents. 

"This is a huge commitment, and we hope the new arrangements for taking on this responsibility will enable parents to make an informed decision.  We have further information available in our online leaflet - Cambridgeshire EHE." 

Commenting on these statistics, Mr Lewis said there was a rise but this has again started to drop and parents are returning to schools for their children's education. 

"We have seen more children opt for home learning. We get some every year. Almost half the parents this time said they are taking their children off school because of Covid. The interesting trend we are seeing is that the people are coming back to schools, so the numbers are falling.

"And also, interestingly, the government has introduced a condition with local authorities, which I think is good. Before anyone goes 'off the road' and opts for home learning,you have to have a meeting with parents and local authority and school.This is to run the parents by what they are going to be taking on. We will have no involvement, it's only going to be a passive role. No funding for them so the parents are responsible completely. They need to understand what they are taking on.

"This development came in just after half term at the end of October so it's fairly new."

Peterborough Matters is awaiting the latest figures on how many students have currently opted for elective home education from Peterborough City Council.

On Monday, November 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined an extensive testing program post the end of the second lockdown, including for students. 

Commenting on the new development, Mr Lewis said: “There is talk about targeting testing for schools and staff but we understand this might be more for the college and secondary levels as prevalence of Covid is higher in those years. 

“In the past, we have been supported by the NHS in Peterborough who have given us access to direct testing for teachers.  

“This is a great step forward but this is not a permanent solution to Covid. People need to continue following measures even after we come out of lockdown. Universal testing will come in – but until we have a vaccine, it’s going to be challenging. 

“Parents should not think testing is a solution but it will help us get ahead of cases.”