The executive member for education at Hertfordshire County Council says we “cannot wait” until coronavirus is completely eradicated, as the council faces some criticism.

The leader of Hertfordshire Labour group, Cllr Judi Billing, has quizzed the council whether it is too early for children in Hertfordshire to return to school if they are asked to come back in June.

Current government guidance says that from the start of June, a phased reopening of schools could be considered for pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, with the intention to possibly return all primary school children before the end of summer, if feasible.

But the Labour group addressed a series of concerns to Councillor Terry Douris, the executive member for education, libraries, and localism at the county council.

Cllr Billing asked whether schools will be put under pressure to conform to government guidance, and if Hertfordshire will allow schools and parents to make the best possible decisions for their circumstances.

She referenced the British Medical Association, who recently expressed that it may be too premature for many children to return to schools.

The safety to staff returning was also in question, as teachers will have to put themselves at potential risk in the classroom, with current guidance saying teachers will not be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Cllr Billing said: “Most of our schools have remained open throughout the pandemic so far, providing marvellous care and learning to the children of key workers and the most vulnerable whose families agree to their attendance.

“The distance learning and online opportunities they have provided have been absolutely staggering. Teachers have undertaken Zoom chats with their classes, and one-to-one consultations as well.

“Vast numbers of parents have launched seriously and wholeheartedly into temporary home schooling.”

She said that many parents are very worried that children may be encouraged or coerced back to school “when it is not yet safe”.

Cllr Billing continued: “The evidence above certainly leads me to the view that it is too early for Hertfordshire to be assuming that government advice in this matter should be followed.”

However, Cllr Douris is assuring that Hertfordshire County Council are making the “best possible decisions” and that health and safety to pupils and staff is “paramount”.

He said: “We appreciate the anxieties of some parents and staff members, but we cannot wait until the virus has been completely eradicated.

“The children who have been effectively confined to their homes for the last eight weeks, some without any form of exercise, need to have the stimulus of meeting their friends and playing in an open space and, most importantly, continuing their education.

“The virus is hateful, but we owe it to the young people to give them the best possible start and for those who say we should not open could be denying children of an education for the future.”

Schools will be adopting a variety of safety measures as per government guidance.

This includes limiting classes to ‘social bubbles’ of 15 pupils, meaning that one group of students cannot mix or interact with other ‘bubbles’.

Students will also have staggered start, break and finishing times at schools to keep children distant from one another.

Some schools may choose to adopt one-way corridor systems and other restrictive measures to keep interaction as limited as possible.

While schools are not required to give staff PPE, Lanchester Community Free School in Watford has confirmed that friendly looking face masks will be issued to staff to keep them safe while not intimidating the children.

Cllr Douris said that any decisions to bring PPE into class will be left to the headteacher of a school.

He said: “We mustn’t forget that schools have been open for the last two months to cater for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children. The schools have operated brilliantly during that time.

“We appreciate that every school has a different set of characteristics and that is why we have offered headteachers practical advice on how they might manage the re-integration of pupils into the school. It’s not just classrooms that are relevant but also the playground and recreational space.”