On Saturday, Green-led Brighton and Hove City Council decided to advise our primary schools to move to remote learning, with the exception of for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
It was a tough decision to make. As a council, we want all schools to be fully open. However, we need to keep children, school staff and the wider community as safe as possible.
Already, the Government had decided to delay re-opening of our secondary schools until Monday 11 January for Years 11 and 13, vulnerable children and children of key workers, with wider reopening on Monday 18 January.
Looking at our data on Saturday, we were concerned. We were predicting our rate per 100,000 to go above 500 today (4 January). And we were right. Today our cases per 100,000 is 556.6. That’s an 800 per cent increase since the end of the last national lockdown.
This rapid increase is mirrored in the rates in our children and young people. The city’s all ages pattern is similar to that previously seen in urban areas of Kent and East Sussex.
When the Government advised other Tier 4 areas to move to remote learning, some had similar case numbers. For Westminster, they had 520 per 100,000. If it’s right for areas of London, why not for us in Brighton and Hove too?
So in consultation with our schools, unions and public health officials, we decided to write to the Government asking it to include our schools in those that were only partially open. But this wouldn’t be enough – so we issued our own advice (as a council, we cannot close schools ourselves) to headteachers and Governors to delay re-opening at the start of term.
On issuing our advice, our schools have followed through and primary schools across Brighton and Hove will delay wider re-opening. It’s a move that has been, on the whole, welcomed by our community. They’ve welcomed that we as a council have given them clear guidance, where the Government has not.
We knew that this advice would come with challenges for our community. It would mean that many parents with a few days notice would have to arrange childcare, and may have challenges with work. But we felt that shorter delayed opening could prevent a longer lockdown in future – which would be worse. We’ve also offered support via our Community Hub for any worried families, and encouraged them to reach out to their school for support.
Brighton and Hove will be using this time to lobby the Government for vaccinations for school staff and asking it for measures that can keep our schools safe – like more funding to employ additional staff and pay for the measures required to protect our school communities. It’s things we’ve called for before – because we’ve regularly spoken to our school communities throughout the pandemic to understand how we can make them safer.
It may now only be a matter of time before the Government makes a similar decision we did. Green Councillors in Brighton and Hove believe we made the tough decision that the Government was not brave enough to face. We looked at our data, and heard from our schools. We looked at the advice given by SAGE. We believe that a short, delayed re-opening will protect our communities for the future.
Cllr Hannah Clare is Chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council