Return of Leeds school pupils met with 'excitement' yet 'trepidation' amid fears over a rise in Covid cases

Education chiefs in Leeds have spoken of their excitement over the return of pupils to the city’s schools this week - but voiced “trepidation” over what could be in store this academic year.

Tuesday, 7th September 2021, 4:45 am
Richard Sheriff is chief executive of the Red Kite Learning Trust which runs 13 primary and secondary schools, half of which are in Leeds. He is also the current president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

Schools across the city are starting to welcome back new and returning pupils after the summer break, and to a more normal-looking set-up, after the Government lifted restrictions from this term.

Pre-term Covid testing is being used to limit infection among secondary school pupils but rules on social distancing, bubbles and face masks have gone - leading to fears of a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Richard Sheriff, chief executive of the Red Kite Learning Trust which runs primary and secondary schools in Leeds and Harrogate, and also current president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he is “hoping for the best” this year but admitted there are "a lot of unknowns facing us".

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Pupils return to schools this week, after the summer break. Picture: PA

He said: “We are seeing at the moment a real excitement about coming back to school, both from staff and children and I’m sure parents as well, seeing their children return to school safely.

“There’s a real feeling of positivity and renewal, getting back to what we love to do in school which is being with the children, teaching them and supporting them to learn.

“That is the overarching feeling at the moment.

“[But] underneath that is some trepidation about what is to come,” he said.

He said the trust has advised its schools - which includes Crawshaw Academy, Temple Moor, Whitkirk Primary, Templenewsam Halton Primary, Temple Learning Academy, Colton Primary, Meadowfield Primary and Austhorpe Primary - to follow Government guidance, while continuing with "basics" such as good hygiene, social distancing where possible and increased ventilation.

He added: “And we stand ready if needed, which we hope we will not be, to have other measures that we can roll in. We can bring back masks, bubbles, online learning in the worst case.

“We have been through it before.

“We are hoping for the best but we have plans in place for the worst.”

However he urged the Government and exam regulator Ofqual for further clarification soon on how any disruption will be taken into account for pupils due to sit exams next summer.

He said: “Although we can function as a school system whatever happens - we know that, we have been through the worst - the children won’t all have the same experience between schools. Will they be sitting exams if they have been impacted differently?

“I think some preparation and thinking and direction from the Government and Ofqual will be greatly appreciated to reassure young people going into next term - particularly years 11 and 13."

He added: “I think you are always very aware that you are balancing two risks - one against the other. One is the risk of infection spreading and the other risk is the long term [impact] through loss of educational opportunity.

“The children who have the least, have the most to lose. We are seeing the disadvantage gap widen nationally and seeing it in schools in the trust as well.”

Coun Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for learning and skills, who last week joined calls for further clarity from central Government over the point at which extended safety measures in schools should be triggered, welcomed pupils back this week and paid tribute to the work of staff in ensuring the return would be a smooth as possible.

He said: “I’m really pleased to welcome all children back to school this week, including those starting primary or secondary for the first time.

“I know that teachers and school staff are also looking forward to welcoming everyone back and supporting them to achieve their full potential.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has worked hard over the summer to review existing Covid-19 safety measures.

“This work has enabled the new academic year to begin safely, with as little disruption from the pandemic as possible.”

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