18 March 2020
Minister for Education Senator Tracey Vallois
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here today.
Today’s decision to close the majority of Government of Jersey mainstream schools and colleges is one that I have not taken lightly.
As a parent myself, I know the impact my decision is going to have right across the Island. But it has been made in direct consultation with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health and is fully supported by the Emergencies Council.
I ask everyone who is affected by these closures to understand that every effort must be made to contain the spread of Covid-19 and, no matter how hard, we must all work together and do our bit.
This means that from Monday, 23 March our schools and colleges – which includes Highlands - will close to pupils. This will mean that our students’ last day in their school or college will be this Friday, with two weeks of closure rolling into the two weeks of Easter holidays. The earliest estimated return date for pupils in Jersey is Monday 20 April.
The Children, Young People, Education and Skills department will use this month to determine if further closures are needed, based on health-led advice, and parents, carers and students will be advised in a timely manner should this become necessary.
I recommend that private schools and early years and childcare settings also follow the same Government of Jersey health care advice. We will confirm the position on childminding later on today.
All students affected by the school closures will be continuing their learning at home with work set by teachers. Schools will be open to staff and for some selected Year groups, principally Years 11 and 13 who have summer exams. Exam students in other Years will also be accommodated. Secondary schools are making arrangements for minimal disruption to these students but if there is any, then parents will be notified directly. In conjunction with this work, we are closely monitoring the situation with the various examination boards.
We are also exploring keeping a small number of specialist education facilities open for some children with special educational needs and more details will be announced later this week.
Parents and carers will be urged to support their children to practice social distancing to help avoid the spread of Covid-19, which includes restrictions on play dates, parties and all out-of-school activities and gatherings.
The Emergencies Council have followed the recommendation of the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, and restricted public gatherings for the next ten weeks if they last for more than two days and involve 150 people or more in close contact. People are also asked to be responsible when attending smaller events, based on their own risk profile, with over-65s still advised to socially distance, whenever possible, outside their own homes.
It is down to us all as individuals to assess whether attending an event will increase the risk of the disease being spread, particularly to friends and family who are more vulnerable than us. We want everyone to consider the latest health advice when deciding whether to attend.
We have created a new webpage to help parents and carers talk to their children about Coronavirus with links to resources in English, Portuguese and Polish – and that information is being shared with all parents, via their children’s schools, today.
We are also working with colleagues from across Government to see if we can organise childcare for some essential workers.
Wider work is continuing to ensure the safeguarding of vulnerable children and adults.
The Department of Children, Young People, Education and Skills will remain fully operational and will continue to provide support at this time, working closely with health officials.
The situation is being kept under continuous review.
Today the Government of Jersey has also announced a series of new measures, totalling £180 million, designed to provide much-needed support to Islanders and businesses.
As health advice becomes more restrictive for Islanders, rather than see natural closures happening, we are entering a phase of manage, control support and advise.
Due to the safety requirements of school premises the disparate nature that may occur during this unprecedented time would be better served by managing the position in a more controlled and supportive way in order to assist in the extremely important messaging of social distancing and any need for self-isolation
We can, as you have already heard, flatten the curve. But only if everyone takes action.
I appreciate this is an extremely challenging time for everyone. However, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of reinforcing the messaging around health advice from the Government of Jersey, including regular handwashing, and to read the new advice for parents and carers.
This is a tough time for everyone – let’s look after our children together and we will ensure extra support is available for parents.
I would encourage children and young people to keep up with their schoolwork and to help their parents around the home.
While you are at home please make sure you keep in contact with members of your family and friends over the phone, if you can, particularly with your grandparents, if they are over 65 and practicing social distancing.
I am proud of everyone who has worked so hard, often with long hours into the night, from our Department and across Government to work together and support each other.
To all our headteachers, teachers and lecturers and all those in early years and childcare settings – we are so grateful for all you do, particularly the effort that has gone into contingency planning, for your students, vulnerable students and our exam students.
By working together – through a safe distance - we can get through this.
You have the power to prevent.
And abiding by these health measures will save lives.