With the latest decision by Surrey to reopen primary schools tomorrow morning, Conservative-run Surrey County Council is failing its schools. At a moment of crisis, with rates of coronavirus infections rocketing in all parts of the County and neighbouring London primaries closed, there is an urgent need for strong leadership to protect teachers and pupils. But Surrey County Council’s leadership has gone missing. On Sunday night, the Council issued a three-sentence statement – unattributed to any official or elected representative – that confirmed “primary schools in Surrey are requested to open as normal this coming week in line with government guidance”.
This lack of leadership leaves Surrey Headteachers with no choice but to open schools – but many are worried that they cannot provide a safe environment for pupils and staff. Some schools are choosing to stay shut, others are forced to as they will not have the staff in place to open, as unions advise their members not to go into school. So we are set for a morning of chaos as parents won’t know whether their children’s schools will open or not. Parents are anxious and – rightly – angry.
The responsible course of action from Surrey leaders would have been to put their school communities first and advise them to close temporarily. The Liberal Democrats have called for this: for primary schools to move to remote learning until January 18th, in line with secondary schools – to give us time to get ahead of the virus and for the Government to publish a clear plan to open schools safely. This is the responsible thing to do.
Given the high levels of infection in Surrey, with some areas higher than London boroughs, its proximity to the capital and with the Prime Minister already indicating that tougher restrictions are likely to be introduced soon, what did Cllr Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council, have to lose by putting public health and safety first in Surrey and making the call to keep primary schools closed?
Instead, he is putting his loyalty to the Government first – and backing the discredited judgement of an Education Secretary and Prime Minister who have already been forced to u-turn once on London school closures – while hiding behind an anonymous, uninformative statement on the Council’s website. The Conservative Council has let everyone down. Parents and teachers have a right to know why.