Plans to reopen schools have been plunged into chaos – as a government minister admits England’s primaries might not all open on June 1.
England’s primaries were told to prepare to bring back year R, 1 and 6 pupils back to class, with other primary years returning later in June.
But those plans were hurled into doubt by a mass revolt from unions and councils.
Liverpool, Hartlepool, Birmingham, and even Tory-run Solihull and Essex have warned June 1 might not be possible.
Some are looking at later dates, some are still waiting to see what will happen, and some are suggesting returns may be part-time – despite the government saying this isn’t an option.
Schools are of course already open for vulnerable children and those of key workers.
But plans to open them more widely – which involves halving class sizes, hiding away toys, having staggered breaks and making corridors one-way – have divided many in the teaching profession.
They need time to prepare, and also want to see the full scientific evidence on whether it’ll be safe. Scientists have also said the government should wait until after a delayed “test, track and trace” app is up and running.
Asked if Labour would back councils refusing to open on June 1, a spokesman for Keir Starmer said: “Ultimately councils will want to do what is in the best interests of children and families in their respective area.
“The infection rate varies from area to area so it’s not surprising some councils have particular concerns.”
The government has insisted the June 1 date was “at the earliest” and schools wouldn’t be reopened if it was unsafe.
Today one minister, Robert Buckland, admitted they may not open “uniformly” across England. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland they will remain shut to the wider population.
So what have dissenting councils in England said? Here’s what we know so far.
These are all the areas we’ve found so far expressing doubt about the government’s plans. But the situation is changing fast so it’s inevitable some are probably left out. If you know one which should be added to this list, please e-mail email@example.com.
Barking and Dagenham
Council leader Darren Rowell: “I cannot support any school reopening if it puts at risk the safety of our teachers, staff and young people.. Simply forcing schools to reopen without taking steps to reduce the risk of the virus spread is unacceptable… We can’t put people at risk by rushing back to normality before it’s safe.”
“We only support Birmingham schools opening to more pupils when it is safe to do so. We are committed to having due regard to the guidance that has been issued by the government. However, we recognise that for some schools, opening to more pupils safely may not be possible on 1 June.”
“Bradford Council has no intention of directing schools to open on June 1 or to force parents to send their children back and we are committed to working in partnership with school leaders, families and trade unions so that they can make sure their schools are safe environments for our children whenever they choose to open. Parents will not be fined if they choose not to send their children back to school at this time.”
Brighton and Hove
“We have strongly advised our schools that they should only reopen to more children when their risk assessments indicate it is safe to do so. It is likely that wider re-opening will happen at different times for different schools and for different numbers of children, given each school’s particular circumstances.”
Mayor Marvin Rees: “You cannot just make a blanket statement on Bristol. What we’ve said is we will back our schools to make the decision they have to make.”
“While high levels of Covid-19 infection in the north west remain, and guidance around practical arrangements for social distancing within educational environments, testing and tracing, and supply of PPE is unclear, the borough will not be re-opening schools on June 1.”
Adam Wilkinson, lead member for children and young people: “We are advising schools in Calderdale not to extend opening on 1 June. We are keen to get more pupils back to school, but safety is of paramount importance & we have been advised by public health professionals that governments key tests have not been met.”
“Schools in County Durham are being advised that they should only start a phased reopening when they feel it is safe to do so.”
“Whilst all schools are working hard to respond to the guidance provided by the Department for Education, depending on each individual school context, some primary, infant and junior schools may not be able to offer full-time provision for the relevant year groups, and any new arrangements may not be introduced exactly from the 1st June.”
“We have absolute confidence that each school will determine the risk, and will make the right decision for their schools, pupils, staff and parents. The council will fully support any school that after careful consideration of all these factors, determines that they cannot comply with government instruction.”
“We have agreed [schools] will not reopen on Monday 1 June. Whilst we recognise the importance of schools reopening, we want to be absolutely clear that we will be taking a measured and cautious approach to this. We continue to work with schools to put in place appropriate measures to help keep children and staff safe when a phased reopening is possible.”
“Due to a variety of factors, it would be impossible for all schools to operate to the Government’s timetable of opening Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from June 1. While some schools will begin to gradually expand their intake from this date, Leeds will not expect all our schools to open to all those pupils from day one.”
Director for children and young people’s services Steve Reddy: “There is no doubt in my mind that we simply cannot reopen schools in line with the suggested timetable outlined by the government.”
“In our primary schools it is highly unlikely that children in the government identified priority year groups will be able to attend school full-time from June 1, and may also mean that some schools have to prioritise certain year groups, and not make an offer to them all.”
“The council is helping schools in their risk assessments with input from a range of teams including HR, Health and Safety, education services and facilities management. A final decision will not be made until we are all satisfied everything is in place to enable a school to reopen safely.”
Council leader Jas Athwal: “I will not support the opening of Redbridge schools until I am assured that processes are in place to keep local children and teachers safe. Teachers and head teachers should not be penalised if they cannot work or feel their schools are not ready to reopen.”
“We want the borough’s children to return to school, but only when it is safe for them and for the staff in schools. We are asking our schools to work with us to establish what safe numbers will be and this will differ in each school, because the buildings are all different. We do not want parents to rely on a date suggested by government, that schools may be unable to meet.”
“Headteachers, with the full support of the local authority, will only be welcoming the extra children back into their schools that they deem to be safe and therefore the timescales set nationally may not be followed. We understand that some parents are keen for their children to return. That is our ambition too, but we want to make sure any increase in numbers in school is done safely. The virus has not gone away and we must keep that very firmly in mind.”
“As a council we are suggesting [we reopen to years R, 1 and 6] from 15th June to allow for time for appropriate risk assessment, including staff availability and to ensure tests set out by the Government and Trade Unions are met.”
“Many schools in Slough have said they will not be welcoming more children into school until June 8 at the earliest. Please do not send your children to school unless your child’s school has contacted you directly to offer a place.”
“The Council anticipates many schools will need to use the first week in June to ensure they are completely ready for more pupils to attend. This may mean some schools may not be able to offer additional places until the week beginning June 8.”
“We’re taking a flexible approach. We’re supporting schools who cannot open when the government has suggested, and who need to bring pupils back gradually over a longer period, and we’re also supporting schools that are developing plans to open for the year groups proposed.”
“We will begin to extend our provision in Stockport no earlier than June 8th. Primary schools will begin their work with two training days on June 8 and 9, without any children, to allow the staff to meet together for the first time since March. This time will allow staff teams to be appropriately trained and prepared in how to manage the new ‘way of working’ safely. This will then enable them to be better prepared to provide a safe environment for your children as they return.”
Council leader Denise Jeffery: “We have been working with the schools to how it could happen, but my personal opinion is it’s too soon and it’s the wrong age group they’re targeting. I think it should be the older ones – Year 9 and Year 10 – who have GCSEs coming up, who should be first.”
“Wirral Council does not expect parents or carers to send their children to school from the 1 June. We therefore do not expect childcare providers or schools to adhere to government guidance in terms of timescales or the suggested year groups if they judge this not to be in the best interest of children.”