Ministers face pressure as councils and teachers question school reopening date

Support us and go ad-free

Ministers are facing increasing pressure from council leaders and teaching unions to reconsider their plans to open primary schools in England to more pupils from next month.

Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire has joined a number of local authorities in advising its schools against reopening more widely to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from 1 June amid safety concerns.

Solihull Council, believed to be one of the first Conservative-led local authorities to question the government’s proposed start date, has warned that some school places may not be ready for the first week of June.

It came as a poll from teachers’ union NASUWT suggested that only 5% of teachers think it will be safe for more pupils to return to school next month.

In a letter to the education secretary, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said the union remains “unconvinced” that wider reopening of schools from 1 June is “appropriate or practicable”.

The survey, of nearly 29,000 NASUWT members across England, found that around nine in 10 teachers believe that social distancing will be impossible, or will present major issues and a similar proportion are not confident that the proposed measures will protect their health or the health of pupils.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

It also found that 87% of teachers believe that PPE is essential to protect staff against the virus.

Dr Roach said: “The results of our survey underscore the fact that the government has thus far failed to win the trust and confidence of teachers about the safety of reopening schools.

“It is now imperative that the government takes every available opportunity to provide the necessary assurances that teachers are seeking.”

The union leader called for all the scientific evidence from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to be made available to teachers and school as soon as possible.

It came as education unions told the PA news agency that they were due to meet education secretary Gavin Williamson on Tuesday as part of a weekly conference on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on schools.

Calderdale Council became the latest Labour-led council in the north of England to advise its schools against a wider reopening from 1 June, following similar actions from Bury, Liverpool and Hartlepool.

A number of local authorities in England have acknowledged safety concerns among parents and teachers over the date, but they have not urged all their schools to reject the proposed time frame.

John Edmunds, professor of infectious disease modelling at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the decision to reopen primary schools is a political decision but he said it may be that children are less likely to transmit coronavirus to others.

He told the House of Lords science and technology committee: “Clearly the decision to open primary schools or not is a political one; it’s not a scientific decision. Scientists can offer some advice.

“It looks like the risk to children is low, and that the vast majority don’t have significant symptoms.”

He added: “So the risk to others may be relatively low, but overall you have to weigh up those risks with other things, risks to community, clearly we can’t keep children off school forever, and so on and so forth.

“The actual decision, and weighing all of those things, needs to be done by politicians.”

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us