Steve Darling: Working hard to support children as they return to school
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Turning the tide on poverty in Torbay, a task made much tougher by the pandemic we are fighting, is the strapline that the Liberal Democrats and Independents on Torbay Council have rallied around to form the partnership that runs the local authority.
A community that supports our children from whatever background they may come from to achieve well in education is perhaps the backbone of tackling inequalities in Torbay.
Last winter, we invested an additional £850,000 to support children with special educational needs within our schools who predominantly come from poorer backgrounds.
This was perhaps the first down payment our partnership made in tackling inequalities in our Bay. The pandemic is likely to have hit poorer children harder with inadequate resources and a more challenging environment at home to study.
As we approach the final weeks of the summer holidays, many of you will be getting ready for the September return back to school.
This year will be a lot different to previous years, particularly after lockdown.
While some children are excited about returning to the classroom to see their friends and resume their studies, there are others who will find this an anxious time.
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I would like to reassure you that a considerable amount of work is being carried out with education providers to ensure schools are as safe as possible and families are receiving the information they need.
Help and support on preparing for a safe return to school can be found on our website at www.torbay.gov.uk/returning-to-school-safely. This has been produced following feedback from children and young people on how they feel about returning to school.
Our schools are aiming to provide a warm and welcoming reception to children and young people but there is no escaping that schools will be different compared with before Covid.
Young people will be taught in class or year group bubbles, there'll be hand sanitising stations and additional cleaning regimes, staggered start and finish times, one-way systems and entry points as well as limited contact between staff and pupils.
Our education leaders that continue to show their commitment and resilience at this time have been outstanding.
Enabling young people to get to school safely has also been a key priority and our school transport team has done an amazing job of ensuring that all children eligible for home to school transport will be safely accommodated in September.
We've also been working directly with operators to provide additional buses for popular school routes. This will alleviate some of the pressures and enable many pupils to travel on a dedicated bus going only to their school.
Due to schools reopening, there will also be some changes to the times concessionary bus pass holders will be able to travel. As the coronavirus pandemic took hold, we temporarily lifted all time restrictions to allow older and disabled bus pass holders to take advantage of early opening arrangements being offered.
However, as schools reopen, we need to increase early morning bus capacity for workers and school children and will be reverting back to the national standard operational times of 9.30am weekdays and unlimited weekend and bank holiday travel.
Devon County Council returned to these operating times on June 5, and we are pleased we have been able to offer our concessionary bus pass holders the additional service for a much longer period of time.
As we approach the August bank holiday weekend, we are acutely aware that the risks of Covid-19 are still very real and we are working closely with the police and other partners to ensure we are prepared.
I hope you enjoy your long weekend, but I would please ask you once again to remember to keep good Covid-secure hygiene.