• the re opening of our schools

    As the parent of a Year 1 child at a local primary school and a toddler at a local nursery, I want to be confident that my children and all children in St Helens borough, as well as those who teach and care for them, are returning to a safe environment. We all want our children’s education and enjoyment of normal school life to resume, but this cannot be done at the expense of their health and safety, nor that of teachers and other staff working in our schools.

    Many of our schools have been open throughout this crisis, and I thank all those headteachers, teachers and staff who have provided support for vulnerable children and ensured that key workers have been able to continue in their vital work.

    Unfortunately, the Government’s approach to this announcement, as it has been with their wider communication of how we move forward, has been muddled, and exacerbated anxiety and concerns. It has been made clear that the re-opening of schools is dependent on a number of factors: a lowering of coronavirus cases; a national plan for social distancing; tests available for staff and pupils; for each school to have planned for the safety of all and a plan to protect vulnerable teachers.

    I have been working with my Labour colleagues and frontbench Education team to urge the Government to work collaboratively with trade unions – who I have been in direct contact with – and parents’ organisations to identify and address issues within schools before the Government finally confirms a date for their reopening.

    I have visited a local school – St Cuthbert’s High School in Parr – to see for myself how schools might move towards opening up to more pupils when safe to do so; it is challenging, to say the least. Thank you to Mrs Twist and her excellent team for facilitating this. I have also written to all schools within the constituency asking them their views on the proposed increase in pupils attending.

    Additionally, I have worked closely with St Helens Council, and commend the Cabinet Member responsible for Education, Cllr Sue Murphy, for working closely with schools, engaging with local trade unions, and supporting headteachers in the decisions they come to. It is also important that in these early stages, parents who are concerned and choose not to send their children to school because of concerns they have are not penalised.

    We have many fantastic schools across St Helens borough. Our headteachers and governing bodies will act in the best interests of pupils, staff, parents and the wider community. They will have my full support and confidence in making these decisions in the difficult weeks and months ahead.