/What every Gtr Mcr council is saying about schools reopening next week

What every Gtr Mcr council is saying about schools reopening next week

Whether schools will reopen or not has been one of the most talked about issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the Prime Minister first announced his intention for a phased return for certain year groups earlier in May, parents, teachers, unions and education and business leaders have been airing their views on the plans.

Boris Johnson said all along that it would only happen if the government met its five safety tests to easing lockdown – including having ‘a sustained and consistent fall’ in the number of coronavirus cases to indicate the country is ‘beyond the peak’.

On Thursday, the PM confirmed that all five tests have been met and the government will now push ahead with its plan to reopen nurseries and welcome back children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, starting from Monday, June 1.

Secondary schools and colleges are also planning some face-to-face contact with students in Year 10 and 12, starting from June 15.

(Image: Getty Images)

But while some areas are following suit, other councils are delaying the move – including those where next week is half term anyway.

Bury is taking the strongest stance against the move, with the council and the borough’s headteachers insisting it is not safe for children to return.

But ultimately it’s the leaders and governing bodies of each school who will make the decision on whether they feel safe to open, regardless of the council or government, so even in Bury some schools will still reopen next week.

And it means most schools – including academies – are taking their own approach on what they deem to be the safest options.

We revealed earlier this week how one school in Trafford is planning to operate a four-day week with children only attending on alternate weeks to ensure they can be taught in smaller classes of 15 kids.

Leaders at Sale’s Springfield Primary School say the part-time rota system will enable them to open safely and eventually invite other year groups back to school when requested by the government.

There have been reports of other schools intending to start back with a two-day week.

The majority of schools have remained open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers throughout the pandemic and will be staying open for those youngsters, regardless of whether they are welcoming other year groups back.

Springfield Primary School, Sale

So what is your council saying? Here we take a look at the picture across Greater Manchester

Manchester

Manchester council had already said a June 1 return date was looking ‘highly unlikely’ and stressed that there could not be ‘a uniform approach across the city’.

It has now confirmed there will be ‘a slow and steady approach’ to getting pupils back to class, with each school making its own decision depending on class sizes and the design of buildings.

Council bosses are reminding parents not to return their children to school unless they have had direct confirmation from the school.

(Image: Manchester City Council)

Councillor Garry Bridges, Manchester council’s executive member for children and schools, said: “Rather than follow the government guidance and suddenly increasing the numbers in school to meet arbitrary dates, we’re working with our schools on individual risk assessments to understand how they can safely and gradually over time increase the number of children attending.”

He added: “The government message that ‘schools are reopening on 1 June’ is unhelpful. Manchester parents should only consider sending their child into school from this date if they are contacted directly by their school with the direct offer of a place back in the classroom for their child from then.”

A council spokesperson said: “Schools are continuing to work through their individual plans to see how they can get more children back into school in a safe and controlled way, and are staying in touch with their parents and letting them know when pupils can come back.”

Salford

Salford council joined Manchester in stating that a June 1 return date was looking ‘highly unlikely’ and it is still stressing that ‘schools will not be rushed into decision making that is not safe’.

It says the focus ‘is on the safety and welfare of children and the school workforce’ and the school community ‘must come first’ in deciding whether to extend operations in coming weeks. 

The authority is also making it clear that it is ‘supportive of parent choice at the current time’ and no family will be penalised for choosing to keep a child at home.

As of next week, 33 of the 79 primary schools will take additional children, representing approximately 10 per cent of the entire school population. This will then increase the following week when more schools return from half term to 20%.

This is gradual return and at each stage schools will review their risk assessments and increase the numbers of children in school if appropriate.

The children of key workers have remained in school throughout the pandemic
(Image: Getty Images)

Councillor John Merry said: “We have supported schools to follow the best way forward for children and the workforce, listening to expert advice and working in partnership. The first of June has never been set in stone for Salford schools and any consideration to extend school provision has been on a safety first basis.”

He added: “The majority of our schools will not reopen fully for the four full year groups to meet the request by government on 1 June. And we are supportive of their assessments made after consultation with parents, governing bodies and trade unions.

“All risk assessments are specific to each individual school as the school environment, layout, capacity and challenges are different in each setting.

“We are very clear about this – the safety of our children and teachers comes first and our headteachers have our full support with their decisions.

“The local authority has quality assured all of the risk assessments and we have consulted with the Director of Public Health who is satisfied all five government tests are met in Salford at this time.

“It is important that we are able to meet the welfare needs of children in the city – and steps taken have been in consultation with parents and trade unions. Schools will not be rushed into decision making that is not safe and we are fully supportive of their considered approach and will be supportive of any school not able to meeting the Government’s requirements and timescales for nursery, reception and year 6 classes.”

Dr Muna Abdel Aziz, director of public health at Salford council said: “We have not seen sustained transmission of the coronavirus in schools in Salford as we have seen in other settings. Schools have put in place the necessary measures for frequent hand hygiene, social distancing where possible and personal protective equipment for staff where necessary.

“As a precaution, we have advised that if a child or staff member becomes unwell with any symptoms, then they should not attend the school until they are well again and at least 48 hours clear. We have also reminded schools to contact public health if anybody who attends the school is tested positive for coronavirus.”

Parents and guardians will be kept updated by individual schools as they reopen. Trade unions will continue to be consulted if schools feel able extend their offer to more children and further class years open.

The town hall also failed to carry out any autism awareness training for its staff – meaning that more people could have been affected by the same problem, the regulator’s investigation suggested
(Image: Eddie Garvey)

Oldham

Leaders are going ahead with the plan to reopen from June 1.

A council spokesman said: “Oldham Council realises the importance of encouraging wider attendance at schools and other educational settings as soon as possible.

“However the safety concerns of our young people, their parents and carers and teaching and support staff is also extremely important to us.

“We will work with local headteachers and their governing bodies on safe solutions at a local level and will encourage a gradual and phased return to classrooms from the 1st June.”

Bury

The council has said that schools will not reopen ‘while high levels of Covid-19 remain’.

In a statement last week it gave the high levels of the virus in the north west, along with unclear guidance around practical arrangements for social distancing within schools, as reasons for refusing to open.

Councillor Tamoor Tariq, the council’s lead member for children’s services, schools and families, came under fire for his statement and it sparked a letter from Bury MPs to headteachers reminding them that the council itself ‘does not have the power to close schools and this is a matter for the senior leadership team and governing bodies of each individual school’.

But he’s since had the support of Bury’s headteachers who are standing with the council in defiance of the government’s guidance.

Bury Association of Primary Headteachers (BAPH), which represents local authority, faith and academy schools in the borough, has said reopening for reception, year 1 and year 6 on June 1 would be ‘nothing short of reckless’.

Kath Perry, chair of the association and headteacher at St Margaret’s Church of England Primary School, in Prestwich, says schools are planning for reopening, but not necessarily from June 1.

A council spokesman said a small number of schools could still open from next week, bu the majority will be later.

He said: “Each school will contact their parents and carers with specific advice on the return arrangements for specific groups of pupils. This advice will be based on the school’s risk assessment. There will be a focus on safety, social distancing, hygiene, and deep cleaning arrangements – this to ensure a high level of safety.”

He added: “It is likely that a small number of primary schools will open for more children in the week beginning 1st June: they will advise their parents and carers of this.

“In the week beginning 8th June, the majority of primary schools will be open to receive Year 6 pupils, with some offering Year 1 and Reception places. There will be use of phased attendance, with some rota attendance.

“From the 15th June, it is anticipated that all primary schools will be open for Year 6 pupils, Year 1 pupils and Reception pupils. Again from 15th June, secondary schools will be receiving Year 10 pupils. In both cases, each school will advise on its specific arrangements.”

(Image: Getty Images)

Wigan

In Wigan, the council says schools will not open until June 8 at the earliest but the guidance is still under review and they are seeking further reassurance from the Department for Education about the safety implications.

A spokesman said: “We have advised our schools that 8th June should be the earliest date by which we begin to introduce more children into primary schools. We are still reviewing this position and again early next week following updated government advice.

“We are currently in the process of supporting our schools with their risk assessments and plans for wider opening and have posed a number of questions that need answering to give further assurances about the safety of staff and pupils to the DfE. 

“Our secondary schools will now plan as advised for wider reopening in line with new guidance from 15th June, again we will review this following any further government announcements.”

(Image: Copyright Unknown)

Stockport

Stockport town hall has confirmed its schools will not open until June 10 at the earliest.

Pupils would have ordinarily been due to return from June 8 following the half term, but that’s been delayed for teacher training days.

It is proposing for teachers to be back in on that date, but to have the two training days to ‘allow staff teams to be appropriately trained and prepared in how to manage the new ‘way of working’ safely.

Coun Colin Foster, Stockport council’s cabinet member for children, family services and education, said: “Stockport schools will not be returning on June 1st in line with government plans, as our schools would typically be on their half-term break from May 25 to June 5.

“Schools will reopen on June 10 after half term to give school leaders time to conduct thorough risk assessments before welcoming more pupils.

“In the meantime, the children of key workers will still be provided for, as they have been throughout lockdown, including the Easter and VE Bank Holidays.”

(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Trafford

Trafford council says children will be returning, but it won’t be the June 1 date proposed by the government, as most of the borough’s primary schools would have been on half term until June 8 anyway.

Similar to what’s happening in Stockport, staff will be in first for two days – on June 8 and 9 – before children return on Wednesday, June 10.

However, the authority has stressed that it will ‘support’ schools who need extra time to put measures in place.

A spokesperson for Trafford council said: “Trafford primary schools are planning to re-open on 10 June in line with the usual term date of 8 June for our primary schools.

“We have given our schools the option for at least another two days preparation after the holidays to help them adjust to the new guidance. If following their detailed planning and preparation, any school considers they need more time before they can take in more pupils safely, then we will support them in their decision making.

“Schools are currently working through which year groups and the numbers of children can be supported to safely attend school.

“Throughout this process we will be supporting all headteachers in making the right decision for their schools and also support parents in making the right choice for their children.”

“We continue to work closely with schools and our colleagues at Public Health England (PHE) to make sure pupils can return in a safe and timely way at this point but reserve the right to keep our guidance under review.”

(Image: PA)

Bolton

In Bolton the council says it is working with headteachers and unions to reopen from June 1.

A spokesperson for Bolton council said: ” Schools in Bolton have remained open for vulnerable children and children of keyworkers during the crisis.

“Staff in schools have been working incredibly hard to support children in Bolton including during school holidays.

“We are working with headteachers and unions to develop an approach in Bolton to ensure more staff and children return to school safely over the coming weeks.

“June 1st is an indicative date and schools will make decisions in discussion with their governing bodies and in consultation with parents. As always, the council is putting the safety of staff and children first.”

(Image: Getty Images)

Tameside

Tameside council says schools are putting safety measures in place as they prepare for a phased return from June 8.

Meetings have been held between Tameside Council, school leaders, health and safety advisers, Population Health and trade union officials to discuss timescales and protective measures to keep pupils, staff and the wider community as safe as possible.

With schools ensuring that risk assessments are robust, the authority says it may not be possible for every child to return to school as soon as families would wish and that schools are keeping parents informed of the progress.

The June 8 start date for pupils in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 follows the end of the borough’s two-week half term holiday for primary schools.

(Image: PA)

Council bosses say opening times and measures put in place will be ‘unique to each individual school’ so that they best suit their local circumstances and ensure a safe return of their pupils.

Guidance provided by central government on cleaning and hygiene, social distancing and reducing contact, and other practical steps to reduce risks, will be used to shape schools’ individual approaches.

Councillor Brenda Warrington, Tameside council’s executive leader, said: “I’d like to thank our amazing schools and all their staff for everything they’ve done in looking after vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers during such difficult circumstances. This has allowed those on the frontline, including our wonderful NHS staff and essential workers, to continue their vital work knowing that their children are being well cared for.

“We have been working closely with schools and staff representatives to enable them to make decisions with the health, safety and welfare of pupils and staff at the forefront. We can now move forward collectively in a sensible way that’s as safe as possible and supports all schools in providing a consistent offer for children and families.

“I’d like to thank everyone involved for their hard work, dedication and patience in getting us to this position where we can soon begin increasing the number of children who can return to school.”

(Image: Getty Images)

Rochdale

In Rochdale, schools are working towards reopening on June 15.

The borough was one of the first local authorities to speak out against the government’s June 1 reopening plan, with education chiefs announcing staff and pupils wouldn’t be returning until it was safe to do so.

On Thursday we reported how schools have written to parents telling them classes won’t be resuming until at least mid-June.

A council spokesman said schools are busy working on reopening plans and risk assessments. If those are signed off before June 15 then a school could reopen before that date.

Rochdale Town Hall
(Image: Copyright Unknown)

What does the government say?

Boris Johnson confirmed his plan to reopen schools from June 1 as he made changes to the country’s lockdown in a briefing on Thursday, May 28.

He said the changes being made now ‘are limited and cautious’ as the country cannot risk ruining the advances that have been made so far.

But he stressed that despite concerns, now is the right time to be pressing ahead with the move.

Mr Johnson said: “Closing schools has deprived children of their education, and, as so often, it is the most disadvantaged pupils who risk being hardest hit.

“On Monday we will start to put this right in a safe way by reopening nurseries and other early-years settings and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in primary schools.”

(Image: PA)

It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson defended the plans and sought to assure parents over the safety of children returning with phased reopenings.

He told the Commons: “When you have medical and scientific advice that is saying it’s the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner, it seems only the right thing to do and the only responsible thing to do.”

The Department for Education has published practical guidance for headteachers about how schools can function safely, suggesting protective measures that can be put in place in education and childcare settings.

Have you had a letter from school outlining its plans for reopening? Has the school week been shortened? How are you feeling about your child going back? Let us know your views in the comments, or on our Manchester Family Facebook page.

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