School attendance high as pupils return

Return of pupils to schools is welcomed by councillors, reports Ed Sheridan, Local Democracy Reporter

Attendance at primary schools across Islington has been “absolutely fantastic” since pupils returned to classrooms this month, according to council officers.

At a recent children’s services scrutiny meeting, St Peter’s ward councillor Vivien Cutler spoke of her joy at hearing “lots of children running around very gleefully”.

Officers are still awaiting the statistics for secondary school pupils as testing takes place ahead of full returns. Teething problems, the meeting heard, include a feeling that schools are “becoming like clinics” with the introduction of lateral flow testing, as well as complaints of parents breaching social distancing regulations at the gates.

Islington Town Hall’s head of pupil services, Candy Holder, said: “We haven’t got the complete picture, but those schools we have spoken to are seeing absolutely fantastic numbers. One school this morning had 99.7% attendance.

“We are in the upper-90s for most of our schools at the moment, so we’re very, very pleased, and it’s really encouraging news so far.

“It’s been an absolutely fantastic response.”

Jeff Cole, head of school improvement, said: “The attendance that Candy mentioned is different in secondaries because there is a rolling approach to bringing the young people in, testing them, and bringing them into classrooms, so we’re not going to see a proper picture of attendance at secondary for a few days yet.

“On testing, schools are not set up to be test centres, but centres for education. We’ve given them a lot of support, and had a small team of environmental officers who have doubled as testing marshalls and have been round all the secondary and special schools.

“Schools have taken it in their strides. There are ten secondary schools and ten ways of doing it. Some started last week, some the week before, and some on Monday.”

While national concern had focused on the transmission of the virus within schools ahead of the return, councillors say the main issue locally is parents not observing social distancing guidelines just outside the gates.

The town hall said it is working with all schools to try and prevent problems, with officers able to be sent to individual sites to help.

Councillor Phil Graham said: “The biggest complaints I’ve had from residents who live near schools are about parents, all gathering around in groups, not social distancing or wearing masks.

“Whereas kids coming out are behaving themselves, parents are standing around having a good natter, and they are upsetting the residents. That has been the biggest issue.

“It was the same the last time they went back before Christmas. The residents were saying it’s not the kids, they’re doing everything right – it’s the parents messing everything up, all going up and hugging each other.”

Pressed on whether home learning online resources would remain available or be updated following the school return, councillors were told that primary resources will be refreshed.

The education department is working on what might be provided over the summer holidays so families and young children can engage in additional learning during that time.

Responding to rumours relayed by Canonbury councillor John Woolf that the testing regime has made schools “feel they are becoming like clinics”, executive member for children Michelline Safi Ngongo said: “What we are planning is to help schools and young students as much as possible.

“You can imagine that even for young people, for parents to be tested is not easy. We just had a meeting with young people, and they say they do not like to be tested and give different reasons.

“Our approach is really to motivate them, and for us as a local authority to provide anything that the school and young people need. We need them to be safe, the teachers to be safe, and we need to work in full collaboration with them.

“It is not an easy period at all, but we have to find a solution and way for us to resolve it.”