Last month the Tory Cabinet Member for Education at West Sussex County Council boasted that the council had achieved one of the highest proportions of children back in school and in fact was going further and allowing some schools to remain open on the national inset day. Rarely has a press release aged quite so badly.
The West Sussex Conservatives have consistently ignored the concerns of local Labour councillors about the risks of schools reopening, both in letters and at public meetings. The leadership indeed has been quite open all they mainly care about is having schools open so parents can go to work, despite the manifest public health risks.
Of course the West Sussex Labour Group does not want schools to be closed for the sake of it, but the current scientific advice to Government is very clear and there is a significant risk in our view that schools, both primary and secondary, have been acting as an engine for the transmission of COVID, particularly the new variant. We are concerned about the increased risk to life and the unprecedented pressure on the NHS.
Already in Sussex, primary schools in Rother and Hastings are to stay closed. We learnt yesterday that Brighton and Hove city council has also decided that all its schools will remain closed when term time begins again this week. We believe it is essential that the county council also makes such a decision for West Sussex schools.
The Conservative leadership at West Sussex County Council cannot continue to act as an uncritical assistant to a reckless national Government. They need to follow the science. Do they want to wait until Covid rates are as high in the west of the county as they currently are in the east?
In this context, we urge the Conservative administration at West Sussex County Council to advise schools not to reopen on 4th January. Schools should remain closed until a safer environment can be created and until the risks to children, families and staff can be effectively contained. The closure should apply to all children, apart from children of key workers and those recognised as the most vulnerable.
A longer period of online learning working for all school and college students could help suppress virus levels and buy time for both the roll out of the vaccine and to put in place measures that can keep schools safer.
We have many wonderful schools in West Sussex and we are very proud of the hard work their staff have put in during an extremely challenging time. We realise how important schools are for education, mental health, wellbeing and safeguarding. However the situation we face is unparalleled, the lives of children and staff and the wider community including parents, grandparents and carers remains our utmost priority.
West Sussex Labour county councillors
3rd January 2021, 12.30pm