Cllr Sir Steve Houghton CBE, Leader of Barnsley Council, said: "Understandably, a key concern for many is how having more children in settings will impact on the transmission of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) virus. Our priority is to make sure that children and staff are always as safe as possible, and our public health team and school's service will support schools and early years settings.
“We know that research is underway across the world to help us understand Coronavirus (COVID-19) better. As these studies continue and findings emerge, the evidence will increase. However, this isn't a situation where we can say that there is absolutely no risk. We're living in a world of uncertainty, and all of us are having to learn to deal with risk and make balanced decisions based on imperfect evidence and knowledge.
“Having said that, our approach in Barnsley is to base our decisions on the best evidence available at the time and to follow national guidance.
“Most schools have been open through the pandemic for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Most schools are seeking to gradually extend this offer on 1 June for the stipulated age groups and vulnerable children/those of key workers. A small number of schools take a two-week break at half term and in these cases, they will welcome pupils at the earliest opportunity on 8 June.
“All schools and early years settings are taking comprehensive risk assessments, covering staffing levels, building layouts, and other issues that have an impact on safety, and we're providing both professional and public health support to enable them to do this. Schools and early years settings will continually review these risk assessments to make sure that children and staff are always as safe as possible.
“Based on these risk assessments, we're supporting schools and early years settings to welcome children back, should their parents or carers wish to do so.”
Julia Burrows, Director for Public Health, said: “I understand that people may find the reported number of positive Coronavirus (COVID-19) tests in Barnsley worrying. We’re constantly monitoring the data and are aware of this increase during this specific time period. This is a reflection that there’s more local testing happening, particularly in our Care Homes, than in some other areas and so by default we know about more positive cases.
“It doesn't mean that there's more chance of being infected here than other parts of Yorkshire. We continue to review our local data and intelligence to make sure we aren’t missing anything important locally. So far, we have not picked up any significant differences.
“However, we’re living with a risk. For children, the managed risks of being in a school setting could be more beneficial to being outside if they're not following social distancing guidelines.
“The public health guidance is still centred around handwashing, hygiene and social distancing being the key things we can all do to help avoid getting the virus and stop it from spreading to other people. We ask people to think carefully about the government's recent relaxation of social distancing measures and to make sure that their families are still maintaining social distancing measures.”
Mel John-Ross, Executive Director of Children’s Services, said: “These are big decisions for parents and carers, and not easy ones to make. I can reassure them that we're meeting regularly with the Barnsley Schools Alliance Board and school leaders to do all we can to continue to provide a safe as possible environment for their children.
“We know children's wellbeing is made better from spending time with their friends and from the social interaction and structure that school provides. We believe that it's important for children to go back to their school or early years setting, to avoid lost learning and the significant impact that this may have on their future outcomes.
“The measures that schools and early years settings are putting in place mean that children are protected as much as they can be. Schools have completed risk assessments, and significant and detailed consideration has been given to how children can safely return.
“This includes, for example:
- the re-integration of children who have now been at home for some time
- how children will travel to school
- different school start and finish times
- working to implement social distancing where possible
- smaller class sizes (no more than 15 pupils and sometimes less) to form a 'social protective bubble' where children spend time with the same group of children during lessons break and lunch and working where possible with the same members of teaching staff
- the allocation of teachers and the prevention of staff going from one 'bubble' to another
- delivering lessons
- staggering break times and lunchtimes
- where children will have lunch
- deep cleaning
- the equipment that children will use
“This preparation and planning build upon the offer that has been made since the very start of the lockdown to vulnerable children and those of key workers, and where we've seen an increased number of children slowly and safely returning to school.”