Halstow School
All primary schools should be open by 29 June, Thorpe said

All primary schools in Greenwich borough should be open for pupils in selected years from June 29, council leader Danny Thorpe said last night.

Thorpe told councillors on the town hall’s overview and scrutiny panel that two of the borough’s schools opened for reception classes as well as years 1 and 6 yesterday, and that 42 – just over two-thirds – would be open by the end of the week.

Vulnerable children and the children of key workers have been able to attend school throughout the crisis, but schools in England were being encouraged by the government to open yesterday.

Thorpe said there were issues with two schools – one had no plan to open while another had a different plan – but said he expected all to be open within four weeks.

“I know that this is a worrying time for people as we adjust back into some sense of normality,” but it’s worth pointing out that from a public health perspective, schools are considered to be low-risk settings. Our teams have worked with head teachers to come up with the appropriate plans for their schools because each school is different and has individual challenges.”

Every school – including academies – should receive personal protective equipment to help it reopen, Thorpe said, although he said he would look into a question about some schools not yet receiving any.

Asked by Labour councillor David Stanley if academies were being charged for the equipment, Thorpe said: “No, they’re Greenwich kids, it’s as simple as that. It’s a row we don’t need to have.”

  • See also: Covid-19 patients ‘would have been moved to care homes’
  • Thorpe, a former primary school teacher, added: “The guidance tells teachers they don’t need to wear a facemask. My view is that it’s a matter for individuals. It’s not the best teaching experience for a child, but if a face covering is the difference for getting someone back to work, then we have to support that.

    “Equally, we don’t know, and we’ll learn across the week, is how many children are coming onto school with face coverings. There’s only so far you can go in planning those things until you see the reality of it.”

    While vulnerable children have been able to attend school during the crisis, Thorpe said that 75 per cent had not. “That is a very worrying and sobering thought for all of us,” he said. “We’re doing all we can do to reassure those individual families that the schools are safe to come back to.”

    Fossdene school
    Schools should be receiving PPE packs, the council leader said

    Thorpe also praised the work of school staff in reaching out to the families of vulnerable children, including staff at Willow Dene special school in Plumstead. They helped a boy who was stuck in a flat with no outdoor space by asking the Charlton Athletic Community Trust to deliver him one of the school’s exercise bikes.

    In a wide-ranging discussion about the effects of the pandemic, Thorpe said that the council expected to spend £50 million dealing with the crisis, but had only received £17 million from the government. He added that 8 out of the borough’s 11 care homes had recorded more than one case of Covid-19.

    He also said the council would not be able to administer a school travel scheme to replace the free fares abolished by the government under the terms of the TfL bailout. “We have no system in place to administer such a scheme, and we certainly won’t have one by the time the schools go back in September because it’s incredibly complicated.”

    Asked about a return to normal council services, such as grass cutting, Thorpe said many staff were still shielding or looking after children. “It is more complicated to turn things on than turn them off,” he said.

    “As I was cycling to work down Broad Walk [in Kidbrooke], opposite Samuel Montague youth club there was a man with his own lawn mower, mowing the lawn. Whoever that was, good on you.”

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