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More Suffolk primary schools reopen than expected but fewer pupils attended

Fewer than one in five primary pupils returned to school in Suffolk last week, new data shows.

Data collated by Suffolk education chiefs for the return of Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from June 1 found that upwards of 69 per cent of Suffolk’s primary schools opened in the last week, but a much lower proportion of pupils within those actually returned.

According to its data, 16 per cent of Reception pupils returned, 14 per cent of Year 1 and 17 per cent of Year 6.

Suffolk County Council’s education team said the number of pupils was much less than had been indicated to them from surveys the week before, but the return of pupils had largely been positive.

Now, more parents have expressed a desire for pupils to go back, said Adrian Orr, assistant director for education and learning.

“I think it was parent caution,” he said. “We did a survey the week before and this data looks quite different to the survey. In the survey we thought only about 40 or 45 per cent of schools would be open but a higher proportion of children.

"Clearly more schools opened but parents were more apprehensive than we expected.

“But the big issue that came out of the discussion with sector leads was that schools are now getting lots of requests to have their children into school and schools just need a bit more time to organise the bubbles.”

Among the feedback the team said it had received was how positive children found being back with friends and how much they had adhered to one-way systems and floor markings because of the novelty of them.

The county council said recovery plans were being drawn up for key learning such as phonics, numeracy and literacy, but also for children’s wellbeing.

Councillor Mary Evans, cabinet member for education, said: “It is likely our children will be bereaved, and there will be children in our schools who have lost their grandparents, and for many of them they have a very, very special relationship with grandparents.

"That’s a very difficult thing, and to see their parents grieving as a small child is something they are not used to.

"There are things like that which are going to be very tough on our schools and our young children.”

More year groups are expected to return from June 15, with bosses saying the next challenge was to ensure the next cohort does not disrupt the progress already made.

Mr Orr said: “There are going to be some bumps – we have had a much better start than we thought but we have got to be realistic that there could be some problems down the road.

“It is going to be how a progressive increase in numbers is managed without creating the very problem social distancing and bubbles are trying to avoid.

"Because there aren’t certainties there is an element of faith about what we are doing.”

The team has urged parents to be patient with allowing their schools enough time to make preparations for the return of their child, and stressed that any child who was ill, whether it was Covid-19 related symptoms or not, needed to be kept at home to protect everybody.

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