Jim Parker: Striking right balance in extraordinary times

Will schools go back next month?

Will schools go back next month? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

After more than seven weeks working with Fred the rocking horse and getting the Torbay Weekly out from the playroom of my home, me and my wife dared to venture down to Torquay seafront for an early-evening stroll.

One of the things I have missed the most in all this Lockdown malarkey – besides my family, grandkids, cricket and a beer garden - is the sound, smell and the sheer beauty of the waves crashing in.

We were tempted to break our self-imposed curfew, only broken previously by trips to the shop and a quick evening stroll down the local ash path and through the public access bit of the two adjacent grammar schools, after the slight easing of restrictions from dear old Bo Jo.

It was a weird feeling and I have to admit I just didn't feel safe. It was very quiet but for every person that did pass by there was a fear of not being far away enough and trying to dodge them which was a bit farcical and must have appeared downright rude which was totally unintentional.

The Government's Stay At Home message had conditioned me to doing just that and it just seemed premature to be doing things albeit a little differently and having a bit of freedom.

So, I can see exactly where some parents and teachers are coming from when it comes to returning to school.

The powers-that-be want to a see a phased return potentially on June 1 with selected age groups, smaller class sizes and restrictions such as social distancing.

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It has sparked a heated debate nationally with some welcoming the move and others fearing it is too early in the on-going battle against the virus.

Torbay MP Kevin Foster thinks the signs point to a June 1 return, but certain factors have to be met.

He says there will be a review of the current restrictions on May 28 and there needs to be a further decrease in infection rates. But he said that it looked 'positive' that schools would go back next month.

He says: 'May 28 is quite key. We need to see a decrease (in infection rates) before they go back. It needs to be lower.'

But Mr Foster adds: 'Any decision will be based on scientific and medical advice which I right.

'It looks very positive that we will have schools back but with social distancing measures and with limited numbers of pupils. To be clear it will be smaller class sizes with smaller numbers.

'People are asking questions, understandably. I think we just need to be guided by the medical and professional advice.'

He says academies can decide separately.

'There will be guidance and each school will be an individual case. They will have to look at the guidance and decide if they can pull it together,' says Mr Foster.

He says schools have been open for the children of key workers, adding: 'All the evidence points to the fact that there is a link to age with the virus and children are less effected.

'There will be a clear impact on a child not going back to school.'

Torbay Council leader Steve Darling said the council has been working with the schools since the crisis began – it is something which has been flagged up nationally as best practice.

'We are in a good place working with the schools,' said Cllr Darling.

'Schools have been open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. It is a case of building on that.

'We have been working with the schools to see how they can pull things together and if they feel confident rather than dictating to them.

'We are still at the exploratory stage. Talks are on-going.'

It is a case of striking the right balance in what are extraordinary times. I'm just glad I'm not running a school and I'm not a teacher...