Reform Jersey Statement on Schools Remaining Open
Reform Jersey understands the importance of protecting children's access to education and pays tribute to the incredible hard work and dedication of all school and college staff during the current pandemic. It must be noted that schools have never been completely closed. Learning online, and in school for the children of critical workers and vulnerable students, has continued throughout the pandemic.
The published letter from the Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) to the Minister for Education does not constitute the level of briefing that we would expect the Minister to receive prior to making such a significant decision. Therefore, we assume that further evidence has been provided to the Minister that we have not had access to. We would urge the government to publish the minutes from the STAC meeting that drove the decision making process regarding schools. This will provide a level of transparency that is desperately needed in the current pandemic situation.
It is clear that opinion is divided on this decision. Therefore, we ask for the following actions to be taken:
- Minutes from the STAC meeting and the meeting with ministers prior to the decision must be published in full.
- A defined set of trigger points that would see further measures being taken schools, including partial or full closures.
- Clarity about how STAC assesses the risks for children in different key stages and age groups, and their teaching and support staff. There is a significant difference between children in year 1 and those in years 11 to 13.
- We urge a more targeted approach to protect older students who may also be at greater risk due to exposure in part time jobs, and for adult students who may be in higher risk categories.
- The ability for students, and staff who are classified as at moderate or high risk, who wish to work from home must be addressed.
- The safety and mental health of all staff must be reassessed, as trade unions have reported that the current situation is placing huge stresses on all staff.
- Confirmation from STAC that schools and colleges are safe to be exempt from 2M distancing regulations.
- Confirmation that teaching staff have a full system of support in place and access to workforce testing. This includes mental health support and support should staff need to isolate for vulnerable family members.
- Assurances that decision making is being made in consideration of the current escalating situation on the Island, and the effect that the requirement to isolate is having on people (particularly is this period of isolation coincides with the holiday period). It is vital that the unique situation that we are in as a community is used as a basis for decision making.
We would urge the government to consider a phased early close down in order to protect older students and lessen the pressures on teaching staff. We fully understand the difficulty of closing primary schools, but it must be clearly demonstrated that children and staff in these schools are not at risk as infection rates rise. We note that external exams are scheduled for January. Mismanagement of the current situation could mean young people having to isolate during this exam period. The same students who may have had previous exams disrupted. Assurance that considerations of this situation have been taken is vital.
Therefore, we urge the Minister and Government to undertake a daily review of the current decision. A situation where parents remove their children from school on an ad hoc basis is not adequate and cannot provide the support for learning required.
Reform Jersey understands that the decision to partially or fully close schools is not one to be taken lightly. We also understand the fears of parents and school staff that families are at increased risk of enforced isolation during the Christmas Holiday period should term continue beyond Friday. We ask that the Government acts swiftly to address the actions we have listed above, and further reassures parents and school staff that advice has been updated in consideration of the current level of community transmission.