TEACHING assistants and nursery workers forced to put themselves at risk for minimum wage during the pandemic are owed a huge debt of gratitude, Cornwall Council leaders have said.

There was consternation when Boris Johnson announced that pre-schools and nurseries would stay open during the lockdown and, although schools are closed to non-key worker children, teaching assistants are coming back into school to look after children of key workers while teachers were carrying out online learning.

Asked by the Packet what Cornwall Council would say to teaching assistants who putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk for minimum wage, Councillor Sally Hawken, Portfolio holder for Children, Wellbeing and Public Health, said she thought they were 'a huge debt of gratitude' was owned to those people carrying on such work during lockdown.

Falmouth Packet: Sally Hawken said teaching assitants and pre-school workers were owed a huge debt of gratitudeSally Hawken said teaching assitants and pre-school workers were owned a huge debt of gratitude

"Teaching assistants would absolutely be part of that," she said. "Let's also mention the early years providers. People who are not well paid, people who don't have the other support mechanisms."

She said that testing equipment sent to schools last Monday was not sent to early years providers but they were in situations where small children will be in close contact because they find it difficult to do otherwise.

"I think there are absolutely people amongst us who put themselves in riskier situations than those of us who are sitting at home looking at a screen and I think we should all be extremely grateful to people in there situations." she said.

That was why it is so serious that people took a really good look at what they are stepping out of the house for and to have to be absolutely sure it is just for the minimum reasons and reduce the number of times they go shopping and reduce the number of people who they go to the shops with.

"This is a very serious situation, and for some people they are not a in a position where they are able to sit at home and put the telly on and see it out.

"They are out there doing things that we all consider extremely important. The work of teaching assistants, the work of teachers is extremely important work.

"Schools have not been been closed. They have not been closed since March. There have been children in those settings. There have been people in early years settings and as a result all of the workforce everyone involved in the school system has been in and working at least some of the time in face to face situations. What I would say is: thank you."

Her sentiment was echoed by council leader Councillor Julian German who said he was constantly annoyed by people saying schools were closed.

"I think closure is a bit of a misnomer in this context," he said. "It is one that I have been frustrated about because schools absolutely are open. Those children of key workers need to be in school and also of course teachers are working even if they are teaching remotely. I have been frustrated by that."

Public health chief for Cornwall Rachel Wigglesworth said the council wanted the minimum number of school children in the system and it needed to be the children of key workers only who absolutely crucial to being able to respond to the pandemic and keep the whole system functioning.