North Yorkshire County Council prepares for schools to reopen despite opposition from unions

Education bosses are backing plans for pupils to return to classrooms in two weeks’ time – despite strong opposition from teaching unions demanding schools stay shut until a coronavirus track and trace scheme is rolled out.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 9:46 am

North Yorkshire County Council has thrown its weight behind government proposals to reopen schools by June 1, saying schools in the region will undergo a rigours risk assessment before they welcome back students in Year 1 and Year 6.

It comes amid warnings from unions that doing so would put both teachers and pupils at risk of contracting coronavirus.

Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the UK’s second-largest education union, said members supported schools reopening, but only if they could be made “covid secure.”

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Schools across North Yorkshire are preparing to reopen. Stock picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

“The bottom line is that no teacher or child should be expected to go into schools until it can be demonstrated that it is safe for them to do so,” he said.

“Schools are looking to the government for clear and unequivocal guidance on the health and safety measures they will need to have in place prior to reopening.”

NASUWT has also backed calls for councils to be given powers to close schools if testing indicates coronavirus clusters.

Dr Roach said this will be “vital” in controlling a second spread of the virus.

North Yorkshire County Council said it is responding to reopening concerns from headteachers and parents with queries ranging from school transport to cleaning.

Meanwhile, officials are drawing up plans on how social distancing can be maintained in classrooms. This could include smaller class sizes, socially-distanced desks and staggered break times.

Parents will be encouraged to take up schools places – unless the child or a family member is shielding.

Families who choose to keep their children at home will not face fines.

It comes as councils in Bury, Hartlepool and Liverpool have decided to go against government advice by announcing they will not bring pupils back to classrooms next month.

Stuart Carlton, Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Service at North Yorkshire County Council, said: “In line with government guidance, schools will undertake a risk assessment in order to plan appropriate safety measures, which will also tell us if there are any schools in the county which can’t implement appropriate measures.

“We are working with the schools, head teachers and the unions to support the preparation of schools and the decision to open by the headteacher and governing body.”

In a joint letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, several union officials said parents and staff need “full confidence that schools will be safe before they return.”

The letter outlined “key principles” that officials say must be met before schools reopen, including the launch of the national track and trace scheme.

The government had been planning to roll out the app – which is currently being piloted in the Isle of Wight – by the middle of May.

But ministers have now conceded schools could reopen before the coronavirus tracking app has launched.

Despite this, the government has stood by its ambition that primary school pupils in all year groups could go back for a month before summer.

Meanwhile, secondary schools will stay shut, but they have been told to prepare some face-to-face contact with year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year.

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