COVID-19: EARLY YEARS UPDATE - 12 May

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Update for early years settings - 12 May

dan barton

Dear colleague,

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday, there has been a significant national and local conversation about how a return to schools opening on June 1st will function.

There are a number of perfectly understandable questions and concerns voiced by Head Teachers and partners, which we are attempting to answer.

The key issues for us to deal with in the short term are, broadly:

  1. How do we prepare for opening on the 1st of June, at the earliest?
  2. How do we capture and reconcile the competing pressures of operating Hub or standalone schools, and preparing to open hubs?

The work in relation to reopening schools at some point in the future to a limited cohort had begun some weeks ago. Planning is therefore underway, and we are aware of the many different ‘asks’ that schools have in relation to wider support and guidance and this is being prepared. Clearly many of you have already raised very sensible questions about PPE, social distancing etc. and more information about this will come out as part of our communications over the next couple of weeks. It is clear that, once schools do reopen on the limited basis, and subject to all the conditions mentioned, it will not be possible to operate both the hub model and open as normal. Therefore School Hubs will cease to function once schools open again, although vulnerable children and the children of key workers will, it seems, continue to be offered places in their ‘home’ schools, regardless of year group.

More pressing is the impact of Sunday’s announcement on the operation of Hubs and standalone schools now, and on the possible changes in demand for places in schools from tomorrow. I would want to give some confidence to colleague Head Teachers by highlighting that the announcement made clear that schools opening on a limited basis to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 would not be doing so until the 1st of June at the earliest. This means that schools should not begin to open on this basis from Wednesday of this week, but should instead continue to operate as they have been, on a limited basis, for vulnerable children, and for the children of key workers.

The Prime Minister said: “So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.” One impact of this statement is that more people may choose to return to work from tomorrow. It is possible, then, that more children of key workers will be looking for a place in a School Hub, or a standalone school. The definition of ‘key worker’ has not changed, however, and it will be important for you to talk to the families of your children to ascertain what the potential increase in demand might be. Having spoken to the DfE this morning, we are of the same view that, since key workers are largely already taking up places where needed, the increase in legitimate requests for places between now and 1st June is likely to be relatively small. I have drafted a letter for Cumbrian Head Teachers to send to parents in order to make clear the current situation, and our understanding in relation to School Hubs from tomorrow, and schools as a whole from the 1st of June.

Similarly, in preparation for an increase from the 1st of June, it will be important for Head Teachers to carry out a risk assessment to help understand what the limitations will be around managing increasing numbers of pupils in the school, at the same time as adhering to social distancing guidelines. The follow-on guidance, published yesterday, stated that: “Where settings can keep children and young people in those small groups 2m away from each other, they should do so. While in general groups should be kept apart, brief, transitory, contact such as passing in a corridor is low risk.” Cumbria has many schools, of which many different types, shapes and sizes, so the risk assessment process will be fundamental to our ability as a system to respond to the announcement and subsequent guidance.

We feel that this risk assessment process will be most sensibly achieved if all settings are approaching it in the same way. There is a risk otherwise that settings in close proximity will arrive at different conclusions around safety and operability, causing unnecessary and unhelpful difficulty for colleagues locally. The Cumbria risk assessment is currently being developed and should be with you later this week. You can get support from your link advisor from the Learning Improvement Service in relation to this.

DfE have confirmed that they will be releasing further guidance in relation to reopening in the form of a checklist and implementation toolkit later in the week. They have also said that, whilst the guidance in relation to the May half term is currently unclear, a ‘best endeavours’ approach to provision over the break should be adopted. This means that schools locally will need to assess the level of demand for key worker and vulnerable child places over the holiday period, recognising that colleagues and staff themselves all need a proper break.

Further guidance can be found here:

To summarise the above:

  • Reopening starts on 1st June at the earliest, not from Wednesday
  • Planning for this is already underway and a risk assessment being developed
  • A letter for parents/carers is attached and outlines the Cumbrian position in relation to hub capacity between now and 1st June. 

This situation is clearly very far from ideal, and I will thank you all again for the work that you and your staff are doing to support the children and families of Cumbria at such a trying time.

With best wishes,

Dan Barton, Assistant Director - Education and Skills
Cumbria County Council


Actions for education and childcare settings to prepare for wider opening from 1 June 2020 – Guidance

Attached is a summary of the DfE guidance issued 11 May 2020 to support Early Years Providers to prepare for opening 1 June 2020. This document is presented as a summary, which includes direct quotes and some summaries, it is recommended that you should also read the DfE published guidance in full.


Archive of early years bulletins on our website

Past editions of this Early Years bulletin are archived and available on the Education Tactical Co-ordination Group website:

https://www.cumbria.gov.uk/coronavirus/education.asp


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