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Suffolk County Council school chief says schools are preparing for a normal January but have remote teaching plans in place quickly if needed



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School leaders are planning for a normal return of schools in January, the county’s education chief has said – but measures to introduce remote learning quickly are in place if Omicron escalates restrictions in the new year.

Latest Suffolk data for the last 10 days indicated that 2,252 youngsters tested positive for Covid-19, with 271 schools recording at least one positive case.

It is understood around seven or eight schools closed early before the end of term on December 17.

Endeavour House in Russell Road, Ipswich. Headquarters of Suffolk County Council. Picture by: Jason Noble LDRS (53800578)
Endeavour House in Russell Road, Ipswich. Headquarters of Suffolk County Council. Picture by: Jason Noble LDRS (53800578)

Adrian Orr, assistant director for education, skills and learning at Suffolk County Council, said cumulative figures for youngsters testing positive this term could be around 15,000, but confirmed schools were planning for a normal return in January with the hope that a lockdown is not needed.

“We are really hoping that is not going to be the case, but obviously we don’t know how this variant is going to play out,” he said

“I think parents, children and staff would like things to be as normal as possible as they can from January, recognising they have got to do the testing and having the appropriate regime in place when they test positive.

“But if we find ourselves in a situation like January 4 or 5 last year – where the prime minister had made the announcement after they had been in school a day that they were sending them home – I think the difference now is there are pretty robust mechanisms in place to put remote learning in place quickly.

“I think that would happen quite quickly, quite efficiently. We are all hoping we are not in that situation.”

Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and learning at Suffolk County Council. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL (53800594)
Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and learning at Suffolk County Council. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL (53800594)

School staff have been praised for their efforts in keeping schools open during the last term, and parents have been urged to remain patient in the new year if short term changes are needed.

Mr Orr said schools had reported staffing pressures towards the end of term, and while looking to continue relying on their own workforce, may need to utilise supply teacher agencies if sickness ramps up in the new year

In addition, Mr Orr said there was “some concern in the system” around supply of lateral flow tests, adding: “Clearly some parts of the system have got the lateral flow tests and others haven’t, so we will go back to what we did right at the beginning and might even swap some round and shift them round so that everyone has got enough”.

Earlier in the term, the council introduced a new school Covid-19 framework based on three levels of case numbers. Each level had different suggested measures around re-introducing bubbles, staggered start and end times and remote learning for small groups if needed.

The authority said that had been produced alongside school leaders and had been well received, with the protocol said to continue into the new year.

More guidance for schools is expected from the Department for Education next week, with any changes from that being incorporated into a revised protocol if needed.

Mr Orr said: “ The framework we will modify based on what the national picture is and the Department for Education advice.

“We think it is a good model because it has got flow charts and people like flow charts because it helps manage things, Ultimately the responsibility does rest with school leaders, we are just trying to give them as much support in their decision making.”

On advice for parents he added: “Parents have done a fantastic job in supporting us throughout this pandemic, it is just that recognition that how it plays out in different schools can be different so we just ask them to bear with us.

“There is always the moment of disappointment for a parent when they get the call that their child has got to come home or that the class is closing, or even that they are having to go to remote learning.

“We absolutely get parents’ anxiety about that. Those things are only happening as a last resort, and they are happening because that is the most effective way we can keep their children safe, keep other people’s children safe and staff safe.”