Conservatives criticise delays in reopening Brighton and Hove schools

Posted On 03 Jun 2020 at 12:28 pm

The Conservatives have accused Labour of playing party politics with children’s welfare by delaying the reopening of schools in Brighton and Hove based on myths rather than scientific evidence.

Councillor Samer Bagaeen said that Labour-led Brighton and Hove City Council did not take scientific advice before deciding to keep schools closed.

He said that the council chose to ignore the government’s expert advice and had cited unreliable and alarmist figures suggesting that the coronavirus was spreading more widely than it was.

His remarks came after Labour’s school’s chief, Councillor John Allcock, told the BBC that the decision was down to health and safety not party politics.

Councillor Allcock and unions, representing teachers and school staff, have said that it is not yet safe enough to reopen schools in the way that government had proposed.

When many primary schools around the country started a phased reopening on Monday (1 June), those in Brighton and Hove remained closed except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

Councillor Bagaeen, a university professor, said: “Labour and the unions have used concerns about a test and trace system as one of its main reasons for advising schools not to open as per the government’s advice.”

But he said: “At the daily briefing yesterday, the national co-ordinator of the UK coronavirus (covid-19) testing programme, Professor John Newton, said that the test and trace system was indeed up and running, with 25,000 contact tracers employed, including 7,500 clinicians, with the system working well, with significant spare capacity.”

Councillor Bagaeen said that there were 1,570 new cases on Monday so, with 7,500 clinicians available to support them – a ratio of six to one – there was no genuine cause for concern.

He also criticised the council and unions’ reliance on an “R” number – an estimated measure of the coronavirus transmission rate – calculated by the Deckzero website as 1.7 for Brighton and Hove.

This would suggest that every person with the virus was passing it on to 1.7 other people and that the infection rate was accelerating.

The government said that the R number needed to drop below 1 – and be as close to zero as possible – for the threat posed by the virus to recede.

Councillor Samer Bagaeen

Councillor Bagaeen said: “The unions said that the R number was too high but this statistic has been confirmed as misleading in the advice circulated by the council’s public health director Alistair Hill.

“He said: ‘We have very serious concerns about the website’s information about the R number.

“‘Quite simply, the alleged statistics they are using are misleading and potentially dangerous in terms of giving either false reassurance or creating unnecessary concerns.’”

Councillor Bagaeen, who speaks for Brighton and Hove Conservatives on health policy, added: “The administration did not take further additional scientific advice in making the announcement to parents not to follow government advice.

“No scientific assessment was made of the mental health implications of keeping children at home for long periods.

“No scientific assessment was made on the impact on local parents.

Alistair Hill

“The administration is advising schools to remain closed but has no broader plan of criteria to reopen schools.

“The basis of Labour’s claims for keeping Brighton and Hove schools closed is increasingly looking shaky and misleading.

“Still they listen to the unions and refuse to adjust their position based on the science.

“Every day Labour delays reopening schools is another day that inequality increases in Brighton and Hove’s education system.”

  1. Brighton Parent Reply

    At last someone is challenging the decision by unions and council leaders to keep schools closed.
    Every family is different and parents should decide if it is safe for their children to attend school.

    The impact of no school for some children and families outweighs some limited risk. Parents need to work even parents who are not key workers or vulnerable. Children need to start attending school before they lose the skills and miss too much learning. Reintegrating some children after this long at home will be very challenging.
    Children and particularly young people now realise that school is not an “essential service”. They see a future of less attendance and more distance learning. There could be significant issues with school refusal and attendance. These are the young people whose parents are fined for any small non-attendance and told “every school day matters”.
    Other sectors have set glowing examples of managing risk and great determination to keep delivering a service to the public. Sectors whose staff do not always enjoy the same pay and conditions as teachers. Where would we be if supermarket staff, delivery drivers, carers, anyone working in food retail or NHS staff refused to work or open their services.
    Come on teachers – set the example to our future generation is school “essential” or not?

    • Joe B Reply

      Teachers are in school teaching as well as setting and marking home learning. They are delivering work packs to those with SEN and those without internet access. They are phoning pupils and organising reading books for them. They were all set up to open in small socially distanced groups until the council said to wait. It has taken a huge amount of work to reorganize the buildings, change resources, order new equipment, write detailed risk assessments, assign new groups and reassign staff, as some are shielding. Senior leaders have worked all through Easter and half term. There have been 50 changes to advice from the gov in the last month. School is essential. So is the health of pupils, staff and the local community in which they live.

    • Buzzer on Boundary Parent Reply

      Meanwhile as a key worker, my son in year 6 attends school and is the only one in his class there. He socialises with pupils in different years, but they are not at his level intellectually and he finds this frustrating. Teaching assistants provide one hour of home learning and the rest is holiday camp level. Once 3 o’clock arrives, he goes home and has group chats/video games with his classmates to catch up with them. I am very grateful to the school and overall the government for providing this provision. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to work. But I thought my son’s classmates would return on the 1st of June and was excited for him. I am disappointed by the delay.

  2. Jg Reply

    Councillor Bagaeen, please take a moment to open your eyes and look at the real world. The figures of cases for Brighton and hove have been steadily rising for the past couple of weeks. The idea is that it falls not rises. Your personal ambitions to win arguments and get noticed will have us all put back to a complete lockdown!

  3. Oskar Reply

    Politicians arguing about science and “R numbers” that they obviously do not understand make me want to cry. In Germany councils had clear instructions on how to behave from the government based on best scientific practice not on chancers who say one thing and do another. It seems such a long time since we were in the EU. As we join “the rest of the world” our standards on public health and safety are already falling.

  4. Teresa Lipson Reply

    It is clear that the test and trace is nowhere near ready Councillor Bagaeen. Even Jeremy Hunt has criticised the turnaround time for testing which is currently 48 hrs, allowing far to much time for the virus to spread. Only 40% of people downloaded the app in the Isle of Wight which makes it of limited effectiveness. All over the country primary schools are not opening, particularly in urban areas. I have done volunteer reading in Brunswick Primary down the road. It has a 4 class a year intake and insufficient outdoor space for so many pupils. The corridors are crammed when pupils have break time or move around the school. I would not want my grandchildren returning there until the teachers were 100% confident. Conversely, a friend has grandchildren attending school in Laughton. 15 in a class and fields as playgrounds. Totally different. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to this. But I feel desperately sorry for the children and their parents

    • SlenderSpider Reply

      Hey – just a heads up, Teresa… You have your full name and the name of the school you work/ed at posted here. This could cause problems for yourself, the school, and others. Please, consider amending your post.

  5. Parents need a plan Reply

    Opening? Not opening? June 8th / 15th, September???
    Parents need to plan, tell their employers work out their finances. Why will the council not decide and communicate clearly and with good notice? This looks like Brighton chaos and playing politics with families and education.

    • Parker123 Reply

      It looks like playing politics with education and families lives because that is exactly what the council are doing. Leaving children, families and schools in Brighton Frustrated and lost. Schools and parents need a set date for reopening. Children need to be prepared for returning to school. Will there be any courageous Brighton head teachers who decide to open anyway – they are allowed to it is their decision not the councils. Will head teachers put their duty before politics. We certainly know that our local council puts party politics before any local duty they should uphold.

  6. Jade Reply

    I myself am not happy with having my children return to school. I honestly think it is to soon. Also being a person thay has had to isolate and also having a new baby the risk os far to great. Until there is a further drop in cases i think this is the right decision. I understand the difficulties of ìt but is it really worth putting our children at risk or ourselves

    • Parker 123 Reply

      Absolutely Jade and if and when schools re-open you would be able to make your own risk assessment of your families circumstances and keep your children at home. Other families could make their own choices too. At the moment no one has a choice and there are lots of very worrying risks associated with children not going to school and families not being able to work. Keeping schools shut for this long does have lots of risks and long term implications that may not be fully realised for some time.

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