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West Berkshire schools 'frustrated' by lockdown 3 closure announcement, but will rise to the occasion again

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Primary Headteachers Association chairman says district's children will get 'one of the best deals going'

WEST Berkshire schools will rise to the occasion and “do what needs to be done to support children” once again after having to change their plans with just hours notice.

The chairman of the West Berkshire Primary Headteachers Association, Andy Higgs, also said that children in the district would receive “one of the best deals” in England in terms of education during the third national lockdown.

Primary schools had been preparing to reopen after the Christmas break on Tuesday, only to be told in a national address from Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 8pm on Monday that they would be partially closed.

Schools are now only open to vulnerable children and those of keyworkers, with all other pupils learning remotely.

Some West Berkshire primaries, such as Thatcham’s Francis Baily and Whitelands Park, opened for one day on Monday.

The announcement followed Mr Johnson saying on Sunday that schools were safe to reopen in the wake of rising Covid-19 infection rates and hospital admissions.

Reacting to the announcement, Mr Higgs, headteacher at Bucklebury Primary School, said that schools had been left to pick up the pieces of central Government delay once again.

He added: “From a primary point of view, we have put all our hard work in to start a new term, updating risk assessments and procedures, to have the curveball of the union guidance to the members about perceived uncertainty about the safety of schools.

“Some schools were compelled to change their plans about staff availability.

“Other schools worked incredibly hard to give people confidence about full reopening.

“To top it off… Monday night comes and we are absolutely crushed by what was announced, not necessarily because of what it was, but the timing.

“The desperate disappointment and frankly anger that lingers on the back of the Prime Minister stating on Sunday morning that schools are safe, to turn round on Monday and say they have now got to partially close.

“It’s a frustratingly difficult situation where schools have once again had to pivot what they doing, in some cases with 10 hours’ notice.”

But Mr Higgs said that parents and children in West Berkshire were some of the luckiest in the country.

“I’m absolutely in awe of everything schools have done in the last few days,” he said.

“The amount of work and effort that has gone in to ensure that learning can continue within the restrictions that have been placed upon us by Government.

“I’m just in awe, I’m wowed by how, and as a parent with school-aged children myself, to have the quality of schools and people working in them that we do in West Berkshire.

“Yes, we are frustrated at central government, again.

“Yes, we were given no time, again.

“But school staff and headteachers have risen to the occasion again and they are doing what needs to be done to support children.

“It’s the last thing anyone wants to do.

“There are heavy hearts everywhere, but my goodness we are going to give it all we have got and we look forward to being back together.”

Schools were forced to close during the first national lockdown in March last year but reopened in September and remained open during the second lockdown.

Remote learning is in place but Mr Higgs said there would be difficulties.

He said: I think it’s going to be a tricky six weeks, but what I do know is children in West Berkshire will get one of the best deals going in England through this period.”

Mr Higgs said there was now “a huge trust deficit” between school leaders and central government.

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