I am working to collate the concerns of people in Bristol West and put them to the relevant ministers. Below is a letter I have sent to the Secretary of State for Education, requesting that he consider some of the consequences of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis:

Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson MP
Secretary of State for Education
20 Great Smith St

30 March 2020

Dear Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson MP,

Thank you for the work your department is doing to provide guidance to staff, parents, and pupils about the closure of nurseries, schools, and educational facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am writing because several constituents and also the local authority have concerns and questions about a number of issues that I have collated in this letter. I include them together for brevity. I understand in this fast-moving situation that further guidance from the government may precede this reply, and I will look out for this to communicate with my constituents. I list them below and I would be grateful if you could refer to each point in your response:

  1. Schools have not been given any direct guidance from the DfE on staff safety practises regarding continuing their work patterns. This means that there are a range of practises in place which is worrying headteachers in my constituency. Will the government release further guidance, using an evidence-based approach, to ensure the best-practise approach to staff patterns, this may include taking into account the health-risk of each individual and their family. Furthermore, will there be any other safety guidance for teachers, beyond washing hands regularly?
  2. Currently teachers are not being tested for COVID-19 which is concerning some of my constituents. Catching an unseen case of the virus before it has a chance to spread to families of key workers and the vulnerable should be essential.
  3. Whilst nurseries must close due to government guidance, parents in my constituency are being told that they must still continue to pay their childcare fees. This is worrying parents who can no longer work. Many nurseries around Bristol are applying different rules to this. Can there be blanket government guidance on this issue?

I would like to bring your attention to various constituents who work in educational facilities who have contacted me as they have been left out of any financial support. These include:

  1. Language schools – there are at least 7 language schools in Bristol West. Whilst they are obliged to have a D1 (Educational) rating with the local council, the Valuation Office charges B1 (Offices) rates. Whilst the Chancellor announced the abolition of business rates for the tourism and hospitality sector, this does not include language schools. Could they either be treated as educational establishments and pay reduced rates, or an extension of the tourism industry and have their rates abolished where their rateable value is less than £51k?
  2. Childminders – the position with childminders appears to be unclear as they are self-employed but also classed as key-workers but experiencing significant loss of income as parents are caring for children at home.
  3. There also appears to be some confusion about paying agency workers including supply teachers, some may be classed as employees and some not and the agencies do not yet seem to be aware of what they are able to claim for employees.
  4. Government funded training providers including apprenticeship provision, for example City of Bristol College who currently train over 1000 apprentices and already most of them are facing immediate problems. Those from low-income families have the added pressure of needing high-tech systems to continue their training at home, but the vast majority practise skill sets which not able to do so.

It is important that we must respond to the needs of our country once we come out of this crisis and ensure that we support these educational facilities.  Could you please consider the above categories of workers and if necessary ensure that the Chancellor is aware of their needs in any packages of financial support and amend them as needed.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Thangam Debbonaire MP for Bristol West


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