By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter
Parents in Lambeth will “not be sanctioned” if they decide not to send their children back to school when they reopen.
Lambeth Council held a live online Q and A session on Thursday (May 28), hosted by Ed Davie, cabinet member for children and young people, where parents and other stakeholders could raise concerns with experts amid the Covid-19 crisis.
The Q and A focused on schools returning next week, confirmed after the Government said its five tests had been met on May 28.
This will start with primary school and early years, while secondary schools and special schools are expected to open gradually from June 15.
Cllr Davie previously outlined plans to keep children safe when they return to schools at an overview and scrutiny meeting this month, which included small ‘bubbles’ of around six pupils and one teacher who would only interact with each other, learning outside, and providing PPE to those who need it.
During the Q and A people asked about keeping their children at home, mental health services, the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and ethnic minority families, online learning, and PPE.
Parents were told the “key thing” is that they are confident about their child’s return, and to ask teachers and headteachers for “as much information as you need to reassure yourselves”.
Cathy Twist, director of education at the council, said that if parents decide to keep their children at home they will not be sanctioned.
“What schools will be doing is talking to you to reassure you about the arrangements they’ve put in place so that hopefully you will feel that it’s safe to go back.
“There are going to be small groups, and it won’t be every day immediately because all children in the relevant year groups are going to have a turn over time,” she said.
Ms Twist said she hopes that parents will feel more confident over time “to send your child to school so they can get back and see their friends and access a different kind of learning”.
But she added: “If you choose not to send your child to school there will be no sanctions this term.
“What we would encourage you to do is to make contact with your schools.
“If you’re not comfortable about taking your child back at this point please do engage with your school and talk to them about other additional activities that you can do at home.”
Online learning for children will continue to be available after schools reopen.
Concerns were also raised about mental health amid the crisis – attendees were told to do things they enjoy everyday, limit the amount of news they watch, do online exercise classes, and set boundaries around children’s screen time.
Dr Anya Kaushik, a child psychiatrist at Lambeth CAMHS, said it was a “hugely challenging time” for families and “particularly” younger children.
“If anyone is worried about a young person who’s been through any [negative] experience I would recommend they look at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) website for online resources for support during Covid.
“If anyone is worried their child is experiencing significant bereavement or any of the issues raised in the chat around loss, we have a Lambeth CAMHS duty team onsite every day.
“There’s a duty worker who is available, who will speak to a parent, will help them work out whether they need a Lambeth CAMHS referral at this time, and where that’s not appropriate they’ll offer them resources for support.
“There are really good voluntary agencies in the community as well, so we can look at a coordinated response with them as to how best to support children,” she said.
Ruth Wallis, director of public health at Lambeth, said the council was looking into the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the BAME community, the reasons for which are not yet fully understood.
But she said children are much less at risk than older people and those with health issues.
Concerns were also raised about inconsistencies around PPE advice and school openings.
Cllr Davie said there was “no one-size-fits-all” when it comes to schools opening, and each would open based on an individual risk assessment, adding the council would be in regular contact with parents, schools, and trade unions.
The council’s director of public health said it was important to differentiate between PPE, which protects the wearer, and face coverings, which protect the people around the wearer.
She said face coverings can act as barriers for children, especially those with special needs or those who lip read, and said most of all that no one who is feeling unwell should come to school.
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