“WE’RE lobbying for teachers to be given priority when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations.”
That’s the message from Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for children’s services at the borough council.
On Tuesday, Cllr Clark told Wokingham.Today the council is pushing for school staff to be prioritised over the general public.
“They should be included within the top four priority groups,” she said. “Wokingham’s Public Health Director is also helping lobby for this.”
This was echoed by Wokingham Liberal Democrats, who said their councillors are also pressing school staff to be included in the early stages of the national vaccination programme.
Responding to school closures, Cllr Clark said the prime minister made the “difficult decision” based on the Public Health information available at the time.
She said: “Clearly they didn’t have enough data to close schools earlier. I think they must have had some new information on Monday — politics doesn’t come into it.
“Any government would have found this difficult.”
This was echoed by health executive, Cllr Charles Margetts.
But Cllr Prue Bray, Liberal Democrat lead for education said it was “appalling” decision-making from the prime minister.
“It’s just another example of the Government making a decision at late notice,” she said. “It’s an appalling way to treat children and schools.
“Everyone else has been talking about closing schools for weeks — they didn’t even suggest it was a decision under constant review. Their say was final.”
Cllr Lindsay Ferris, party leader added: “Communication locally has not been helped by a statement from the council, confusingly headed ‘School Re-opening in Wokingham’ – the opposite of what is happening.
“The decision should, and could, have been made much sooner, as many were urging.
“But dither and delay is what we have come to expect from this government.”
Cllr Andy Croy, leader of Wokingham Labour said it was a shame the prime minister allowed schools to open for a single day, “spreading the virus”.
He added: “Teacher time has been wasted and parents have not been able to prepare their children for something which any competent administration would have anticipated.”
Cllr Bray said she was glad the summer GCSE and A-levels had been scrapped, and said it was “ludicrous” to try and pursue them.
But she is calling for clarity over BTEC and Key Stage 2 SATS, as many BTEC exams are currently underway for secondary pupils.
She was in agreement with Cllr Clark, and said it is sensible for schools to close, to prevent children spreading the virus.
Both councillors praised teachers across the borough for their continued hard work throughout the pandemic, and said they were sympathetic to parents who have been thrown back into homelearning.
Over the weekend, leader Cllr John Halsall and Cllr Clark wrote to headteachers giving them their backing to delay reopening of primary schools to ensure they had more time to prepare for a safe return to the classroom.
Cllrs Halsall and Clark wrote an open letter to parents, carers, school staff and key stakeholders reaffirming their support as lessons are switched from the classroom to online.
“We understand that each school setting is different, and staffing availability will be different for each school and so we are clear that there is no one size fits all in respect of school arrangements,” they wrote.
“This is why we believe that the best place for decision making is with the headteacher and we still support this.”
Speaking to Wokingham.Today, Cllr Clark said she stands by each school and its ability to undertake a risk assessment.
Wokingham Borough Council will ensure that free school meal provision entitlements are met once again, as they did during the first lockdown.
Cllr Clark said the council would dig into its own funds if necessary, to ensure no child goes hungry in the borough.
In March, many schools were able to secure extra laptops and technology for home learning.
Cllr Bray said the borough council has done well to support schools, but encouraged leaders to help schools secure more IT equipment for home learning.
“The priority now is to catch children whose families are suffering the effects of the pandemic, but may not be highlighted through the free school meals scheme.
“I know the council staff are working flat out to support people — we need to catch anyone around the edges and ensure support.”
Cllr Clark said the council has a scheme with First Days Children’s Charity, helping to source refurbished laptops for local children.
Cllrs Halsall and Clark said they will look at the wider picture, as the restrictions will be in place for some weeks.
“As your council, we continue to engage with all schools and settings and have a clear dialogue with the Department for Education, Public Health England and Government, and look to work with them to respond to the developing picture for Wokingham and support the right decisions for children and young people, their families, school staff and the wider community,” they said.
Key worker parents, or those with vulnerable children will need to contact their school.