SCHOOL leaders say they're ready to welcome thousands of pupils back on Monday and that it's safe for children to return.

They spoke out at an online Q&A, where they answered questions from worried parents.

Swindon Borough Council’s director of public health Steve Maddern led the event with the director of inclusion and achievement Annette Perrington, as they reassured parents it is safe for their children to go back to school.

Face coverings, shielding, coronavirus tests and anxiety about returning were some of the concerns they talked about with the headteacher of Great Western Academy Graham Davis, and principal Kate Higham of Crowdys Hill School.

“We really want students to come back in, it’s the right time and it is safe with the extra measures in place,” Graham said.

“We’ve got thousands of masks so we can support students with keeping safe. It’s important for us to keep them in a safe environment.

“Students will be tested before they return and twice when they come back and that’s to ensure that there’s a lower risk of getting Covid-19 when children go to school. Every test that’s done reduces that risk. It’s a big improvement on where we were before Christmas and it will make a difference.”

Pupils in secondary schools should have three rapid-flow tests as they return, but it is voluntary and can’t be done unless a parent of those under 18 gives consent.

If they test positive then they will have to isolate immediately.

Kate spoke of testing for the students with learning difficulties and disabilities as the special school.

She said: “Over 90 per cent of staff in special schools have had their vaccination which gives us confidence in what we’re doing.

“The children will be kept in their bubbles, will wear face masks and the transport will be ventilated. When they get to the school they will wash their hands and all our classes are deep cleaned regularly.

“About 15 per cent of our children are being tested twice a week, I would encourage parents to consent for them to be tested. It can be difficult for children with special needs that’s why it’s only 15 per cent.

“If the person has sensory imbalances then it can feel quite painful to have a test done, they do feel quite invasive. We might be able to do it the first time with children with SEND but probably not a second time. We do encourage them to have the test but we wouldn’t put the extra stress on them to have it done.”

Parents raised concerns around their anxieties about the safety of sending their children back to school. Both headteachers urged parents to contact them or the leaders of their children’s school to share those worries.

The meeting heard that pupils should be sent to school even if parents are having to shield. If they’re too young to walk alone, it was suggested that they ask for someone else to take them in and pick them up.

Education staff are looking forward to their return as they hope this is the last time they will need to close, but there is still uncertainty around how they will make up for the lack of face-to-face learning this past year.

Graham said: “There is money coming into schools and we need to decide carefully what we do with that to make sure we’re allocating it the right way and to the right students who need the extra support.

“We’ve already begun to put that support in and we will continue to evaluate how best to do that as we go forward. This is a long-term programme, we can’t immediately fill gaps that have been missed. It’s more important that we get the students back in, back into good habits so we can assess where they’re up to.

“We’re just really looking forward to students making a return to school next week.”

Mr Maddern moved to reassure parents. He said: “The case numbers in children have remained consistently low throughout Swindon, despite our increased case rate in Swindon at the moment, the numbers in children still remain in line with the regional averages.

“We appreciate that this can cause some anxiety for parents, carers, and guardians as we’re preparing the children to go back to school.

"We know it’s incredibly important for them to be going back and the schools have done all that they can to prepare as well as the government supporting schools to be able to welcome children back next week.”