Shropshire's schools are safe places, leaders say

Schools are a safe place for pupils despite positive Covid cases leading to closures and whole year groups being forced to self-isolate, leaders insisted today.

A number of schools across the county have been impacted since reopening in September, with Burton Borough School in Newport, the Mary Webb School & Science College in Pontesbury, Oldbury Wells School in Bridgnorth and Welshpool High School just a few of those affected recently.

In Shropshire Council's area, 54 per cent of schools have had at least one confirmed case in staff or pupils – with all secondary schools affected in some way.

Currently two schools, Woodlands School's Wem site and Rushbury C of E Primary School near Church Stretton – each with around 60 pupils, are closed and there are 34 schools with 'bubbles' or groups self-isolating.

But council chiefs say they are working with schools to ensure they are safe environments, which includes isolating all possible ‘bubble’ contacts when positive cases arise and introducing closures when 'absolutely necessary'.

Ed Potter, Shropshire Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We know our teaching staff go above and beyond on a daily basis to ensure positive outcomes for Shropshire’s young people and we’re extremely thankful for that.

"Despite the Covid infection rates seen in Shropshire, it is a testament to the dedication and commitment of all our headteachers, teachers and all the staff who work in schools, that they have been able to remain open as much as they can this term."

Burton Borough principal Krissi Carter

It is understood that no schools in Telford and Wrekin are closed, but 40 per cent have had a positive case whereby either full or partial 'bubble' closures have taken place in various year groups across primary and secondary schools.

Dr Gill Eatough, chief executive of the Learning Community Trust, which manages six schools in Telford & Wrekin, says there have been cases where staff and students have had to self-isolate, but in the face of pressures staff had worked hard to make sure that environments were safe.

"Our schools are still very safe places," she said.


"We have far more children in school than out. We have bubbles, staggered breaks and lunchtimes and everything is being cleaned down.

"It's not the easiest thing to manage, but our staff have been utterly brilliant and parents have been really supportive and understanding."

In Powys, five high schools are currently impacted by positive Covid-19 cases, which has seen 210 pupils being told to self-isolate while Welshpool High School is closed to all pupils until December 7 because of rising cases in the school and the wider community.

Lee Evans, spokesman for Powys County Council, added: “The council is working closely with school leaders to ensure that all our schools are safe for learners and staff.

"All schools have robust risk assessments in place and are following the latest Welsh Government guidance to ensure impact of coronavirus is minimised.

"There are no plans to close schools early for Christmas.

"Discussion to close schools happens between the council and the governing body when a school is unable to deliver the curriculum effectively due to the numbers of teachers and pupils that have either had to self-isolate or have tested positive for Covid-19.”

Creative answers as the virus hits classrooms

The Covid outbreak has placed a significant amount of pressure on schools across the county, with many experiencing the need to isolate staff and pupils due to positive cases.

Virtual classes are helping students to continue their learning from home, but some leaders say they need a funding boost to cope with rising costs caused by the pandemic.

Others have called for extra help from the government to ensure every pupil has access to a laptop so disadvantaged students do not suffer.

Burton Borough School in Newport recently had to tell its Year 10 pupils to stay at home and work remotely, while its Year 9 students were also advised to self-isolate last month.

Principal Krissi Carter said: "It's been a bit of a nightmare.

"In terms of the strategic work you want to do to move the school forward, you are trying to deal with that but you are also dealing with Covid.

"The second you are alerted to a positive case you have to down tools to deal with it.

Burton Borough principal Krissi Carter

"There's a huge amount of work that needs to go on in the background and also managing the communication with families.

"We've been quite lucky that we've had Microsoft Teams from lockdown.

"Every time we've had children who have isolated, that learning is still continuing."

She says the cost of PPE, hand sanitisers, other related equipment and supply staff is running into thousands of pounds out of the school budget.

And she says she would also like to see further support from the government to ensure that every student has access to a laptop.

Dr Gill Eatough, chief executive of the Learning Community Trust, which manages six schools in Telford & Wrekin, says the rising costs because of the pandemic is also one of her concerns.

The schools run by the trust have also been able to utilise technology and Microsoft Teams to ensure learning can continue from home where necessary.

Dr Eatough said: "I've never experienced anything quite like running schools in the middle of a pandemic.

"We've had to close bubbles when we've had positive cases.

"We are paying for more cleaning, we have to make sure we have good standards of hygiene.

"There's financial pressures on schools and I'd be interested to see what the government might do.

"I would like to see a financial contribution to our budgets this year."

Chief executive of the Learning Community Trust, Dr Gill Eatough

She says one of the pressures is with staffing levels, trying to ensure that all schools can be kept fully open.

"We have staff who have had to self-isolate or they may have childcare issues," she said.

"Where we haven't had enough staff, we've had to bring in some supply teachers.

"Our staff have been utterly brilliant, but I can see people are getting very tired."

Students in Year 11 at Oldbury Wells School, Bridgnorth, were also recently told to remain at home in a letter sent to parents.

Headteacher Lee Tristham says it is using online learning platforms to allow students to carry on with classes and Microsoft Teams allows pupils to interact ‘live’ during lessons.

He said: "We have of course also made sure everyone has kit and can get online.

"Oldbury Wells School has used the government‘s support programs to ensure that all students have access to the internet and a Wi-Fi enabled device to support learning.

"Students at home are working incredibly hard, they demonstrate a huge amount of resilience in what they are being asked to do, although they do of course have understandable concerns about what the months ahead may bring."

He also praised 'hard working and dedicated' staff and expressed his gratitude to parents saying they had been 'extremely supportive'.

Meole Brace School in Shrewsbury. Picture: Google Street View

At Meole Brace School, in Shrewsbury, head Alan Doust says at the moment 140 students are self-isolating, linked to a number of cases.

"Last week was particularly busy when we were sending children home, but not whole year groups," he said.

"Since this week the situation has calmed down.

"We are setting work for the children who are at home.

"The teachers and the support staff are working in school and are at the same time setting work for those isolating which is in addition to what they would normally do.

"At this school all the staff are phenomenally hard working and creative.

"It's been a huge effort with the support of the majority of parents who have been working with us, otherwise we could not do the job."

The Longden Road site was closed for five days after half-term mainly due to 14 staff having to self-isolate.

At the time two staff and two pupils had tested positive.

Mr Doust added that there were no plans to close early for Christmas.

Shropshire based Marches Trust runs nine schools including Shrewsbury Academy, in Sundorne, which fully reopened to pupils on Monday following a two-week closure.

At Sir John Talbot School, in Whitchurch, the Year 11 pupils, who are due to take GSCEs in the summer, also returned on Monday after being forced to stay at home.

The trust said none of its schools were currently completely shut, but at Grove Primary, in Market Drayton, all Year 9 pupils were isolating as well as all Year 6 pupils at Longlands Primary also based in the town.

Those children will return to the classroom at both schools on Friday.

'Positive feedback'

The trust stated: "All our other schools are fully open.

"Overall we have had really low numbers Covid cases.

"The main reason Shrewsbury Academy needed to close was due to the number of staff who were contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

"Around 20 staff were contacted and as a result all the student learning moved online.

"Learning packs were delivered to those not online. The feedback from parents has been really positive.

"There is a feeling that we are all in this together in the community. Everyone understands that the coronavirus pandemic is proving a challenge in lots of ways."

The trust said that Shrewsbury Academy's own Something 40 food project has resulted in 63 families being provided with meals in the area as a result of good partnership working with former students who have been giving back to the community.

In addition nearby food processing company ABP Ltd based in Battlefield, Shrewsbury, had donated a walk-in thermometer to the school in Corndon Crescent.

Shrewsbury Academy head of school Julie Johnson said: "The students have been very happy to be back in school this week judging by their reactions. They have missed seeing their friends."

Additional reporting by Deborah Hardiman

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