Councillor Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, and Cllr David Mellen, Leader of Nottingham City Council on when to start children back to schools after ‘lockdown’.
Cllr Cutts says she understands parents need to make a balanced decision, but that for many the benefits of returning to school would outweigh the risks.
Councillor Kay Cutts, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, also said it was time teachers ‘pay back a little’, with other services continuing during lockdown.
Meanwhile, the Labour leader of Nottingham City Council struck a more cautious approach, saying the current situation would be impacting disadvantaged families disproportionately, but that a full-scale return would be ‘dangerous’.
Most schools are now not under the control of their local authority, instead being operated by academy trusts, meaning councils will not have the final say on return procedures in the majority of schools.
Councillor Kay Cutts represents Radcliffe on Trent for the Conservatives, and is the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.
She said: “I think it’s time children got back into schools, because the world will carry on, children do need an education and they need to socialise as well.
“I really understand how parents feel. I have three children of my own, and I’m a grandmother. I know how precious your children are to you.
“But there’s a balance to be made here. What’s the danger – and it appears to be small according to all the scientific evidence – as against the damage you’re doing to your child’s future and to their mental health.
“I was talking to a colleague of mine the other day whose 13-year-old son is really feeling the lockdown now, it’s starting to affect him.
“You don’t want children to start shutting themselves away in their bedrooms and playing on the internet, we need them to get out and socialise because that’s how you learn to grow up and deal with people.
“There is a balance, and it has to be carefully thought out by each parent, and each parent will have to make that decision for themselves.
“But our schools have never been closed. They have been absolutely wonderful at taking the children of key workers and vulnerable children.
“If you have a child with severe asthma you may err on the cautious side, if your children appear to be robust with no symptoms, they’re probably OK.
“When your child is allowed to go on the bus on their own, or go shopping on their own, it’s that moment when you think ‘oh dear, are they going to be alright’, but that’s growing up, it’s what everyone has to do.
“That’s why I think getting back into school is important for all children.
“I hope the teachers are going to feel able to do this, and if you like, pay back a little bit for everybody else keeping the shops going, hospitals being open, police being open, so many services have been open.
“So I hope the teachers feel able to do this, but it will be up to every individual.”
Councillor David Mellen is the leader of Nottingham City Council, and said: “I think this is a difficult dilemma because on one hand, we would like to say we don’t want to have any risk whatsoever to our school staff or the children returning to school.
“But we know that it is not a satisfactory situation where children are in their homes all the time not going to school, with varying access to the internet to be able to work and with varying abilities and resources from their parents as to how they can be helped with their learning.
“We know that children in the city will be disproportionately affected by learning loss. Our teachers are skilled and effective, and not being with their teachers is detrimental to our children.
“However we’re not ready to have a complete return to schools, that would be dangerous.
“Why you would want to have four-year-olds going back to school when they are perhaps the most difficult to explain social distancing to, is beyond me.
“The question is whether we can slowly start some other children going back to school to reflect the fact that many of our children are not in big homes with big gardens, they are in small terraced houses with backyards, and with varying opportunities to continue their learning, and are faced with learning loss which will affect their whole lives.
“So whatever date is concluded that the return should start, it will have to be a gradual start.”