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Coronavirus: More councils rebel over ‘arbitrary’ date for schools to reopen | UK News



More than two-dozen councils in England have said they will support schools that decide not to reopen on 1 June.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants all pupils in reception, year one and year six to start lessons again from the beginning of next month, as the coronavirus lockdown loosens.

However, Sky News understands the government has been warned by its scientific advisers not to proceed with the changes until its “contact tracing” system is up and running, and – importantly – is a proven success.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has said schools should reopen on 1 June

Mr Johnson has now promised a “world-beating” track and trace system to stop a second COVID-19 peak will be in place before schools in England start to reopen.

But a number of councils have so far said they are either opposed to or cautious about schools opening their doors to students and staff in keeping with that early June deadline.

The 27 councils – nearly all Labour-run – have said they are speaking directly with their local schools about how to manage the return of pupils, warning that safety must be the priority.

Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said he will “look to my own local authority not to fine any parent for their child’s non-attendance at school until we reach a period of normality”.

“At the same time, teachers and head teachers should should not be penalised if they feel they cannot work or feel their schools are not ready to open,” he added.

Mr Rodwell’s stance is shared by other councils, including those in Birmingham, Slough and Manchester.

Manchester City Council released a statement in which it described the date set by the government as “arbitrary”, and added that it would help schools return to teaching with safety as a priority.

The statement 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.”

Birmingham City Council says it will “only support Birmingham schools opening to more pupils when it is safe to”.

In Slough, the council has said that some schools will not be opening until at least 8 June – and urged parents not to send their children in until contacted directly by the school.

Politicians in Wirral and Bury have also said children should not be forced to go back to the classroom.

Wirral Council’s deputy leader Janette Williamson told Sky News it’s “not safe” yet and still a “life or death” situation, adding that the council is taking a “more cautionary approach”.

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Earlier this week, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jon Van-Tam tried to dampen down fears about schools reopening by explaining that children are not “high output transmitters” of the virus.

Speaking at Monday’s Downing Street briefing, he said: “Unlike flu, where we are very clear that children drive transmission in the community to adults, it really does not seem to be the same kind of signal with COVID-19.”

“Children are not these kind of big high output transmitters as they are with flu,” he added.

Councils that have opposed the reopening of schools, or said they are cautious and talking to schools to ensure they open only when safe to, are:

  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Birmingham
  • Bradford
  • Brighton and Hove
  • Bristol
  • Bury
  • Calderdale
  • Gateshead
  • Hartlepool
  • Knowsley
  • Leeds
  • Liverpool
  • Newcastle
  • Manchester
  • Oldham
  • Redbridge
  • Rochdale
  • Salford
  • Sefton
  • Slough
  • Solihull
  • Southampton
  • Stockport
  • Teesside
  • Wakefield
  • Wigan
  • Wirrall

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