I am extremely disappointed that the Labour leadership of Durham County Council have u-turned and told schools in North West Durham to not extend their opening this week, or next week. It is very difficult to explain to parents why children can travel to school across River Derwent in Northumbria to school but not in Durham Council schools. Across the North East, in Middlesborough and Darlington schools are open too, yet Durham County Council have made the political decision to stop reopening until mid-June. All the evidence shows that all children benefit from school, and those who benefit most and will therefore lose out most are those from the most most disadvantaged backgrounds.
I’ve been having regular phone calls with the Council throughout the current health crisis and just a fortnight ago they confirmed that schools in North West Durham would be joining national reopening from 1st June. Headteachers and teachers I spoke to confirmed this and confirmed that they had put plans in place to ensure reopening would be able to go ahead in a safe way. Suddenly, only four days before schools were due to open last week, the Labour-run council changed the local advice completely and decided to suggest that schools stay closed to all those except children of key workers
The Prime Minister, following the advice and scientific evidence of the UK’s top scientists, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Officer, has announced that the ‘five tests’ for schools have been met, meaning it is now safe for them to reopen. However, due to the local politics being played by the political Labour leadership of Durham Council, children in North West Durham will not be given the opportunity to return to school and continue with their education.
There is no good reason to give the advice they have – other parts of the country have gone back without any issues. When it comes to schools the top priority for the Government has always been the safety of both pupils and teachers and it has been made very clear throughout this pandemic that more children would not be allowed or encouraged to return to school until it was considered safe to do so. I brought up the safety of children during a (virtual) Parliamentary question to the Education Secretary and he confirmed that safety is the number one top priority. I’ve also spoken to him about it on the phone and have set out what local schools have been saying so that he is aware of concerns and able to address them. I have been lobbying really hard for the safety of children and parents and the idea that the Government would willingly allow schools to reopen if it were dangerous or that I would back this is completely nonsensical.
For the children of key workers and vulnerable children, schools in North West Durham have remained open for the past few months. I have spoken to many local teachers and headteachers to thank them for what they’ve been doing and working to make sure that all schools are operating safely and that teachers feel comfortable in their working environment and have relayed issues to central government.
It’s so important now that more children are able to go back to school. All the research shows that children don’t magically “catch up” with their education and being in school safely is also really important from a social and mental health perspective too. It’s extremely detrimental from a local perspective if children from North West Durham are not been given access to the same educational opportunities to children across not only the rest of the country but also across the border in Northumbria or in nearby Middlesborough or in Darlington. Measures have been put in place to ensure a safe return to school – only some years have gone back this week and measures have been put in place for stricter hygiene measures. There is literally no reason to not allow the reopening of schools in North West Durham.
I strongly hope that that Durham County Council realise what a huge disservice they are doing to the young people of North West Durham by preventing their access to education, and I strongly hope that they reconsider their position and put party politics aside in the interests of the education of our next generation.