Leeds City Council’s education chief has said it is ‘impossible’ for all primary schools to meet the Government’s timetable of opening to certain year groups from June 1.
Last week, the Government said Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils could return to school from June 1 at the earliest, joining those pupils who have been eligible to attend school throughout the past two months.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council executive member for learning, skills, employment and equality, said in a statement:
“At Leeds City Council, we believe that it is important for children to resume their education so they can learn and interact with their peers. However, this needs to be done in such a way that we minimise the risks to pupils, staff and parents as much as 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.”
The council is asking schools to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment so that leaders can evaluate potential solutions on how they can safely and effectively accommodate eligible pupils. Cllr Pryor added:
“We want schools, in the first instance, to take a phased approach to how many pupils they take back and from when.
“Schools have different numbers of vulnerable and key worker children, different numbers of staff who will not be able to attend school in person because they or a family member are in a vulnerable category and therefore shielding, and different abilities to implement social distancing.
“We can expect … that there will not be one city-wide model for the initial phased re-opening of schools. However, Leeds City Council will support schools to work towards gradually increasing pupil numbers at a pace their individual circumstances allow.”
Cllr Pryor said he needed some clarifications and actions from the Government before numbers returning to schools can substantially increase. He added:
“We have consistently asked for the scientific advice that has informed the Government’s position, and demand that this is published immediately.
“Schools must have guidance and flexibility around the appropriate levels of social distancing as each will have a different layout.
“Staff must have access to comprehensive and regular testing – linked into a local tracing programme – for themselves and pupils.
“The Government must give staff who are social distancing because they, or those they live with, are in vulnerable categories, guarantees that they can continue to work from home and not expect them to physically come into school.
“We support the Local Government Association’s call for local authorities to be given the power to close any school where there is a COVID-19 outbreak. Given the disparate rates of ‘R’ across the country, it is right that this power should sit locally and be done in consultation with Directors of Public Health.
“And, finally the new case count must be much lower than it currently is, with a sustained downward trend.
“We are working in consultation with schools and the Department for Education to gain answers to our remaining questions.
“We understand this is a difficult time for parents and recognise the urgency to return children to education. This urgency should not overlook local level factors, nor should it be done until these points have been addressed. Staff and pupil safety must be at the heart of all decision making, and we should keep decisions under constant review.”
“The only way ever to ensure that you never catch coronavirus is to stay at home completely. But there is always, always, always, in any loosening of these restrictions, a risk of people catching the coronavirus,” the Cabinet Office minister said.
“You can never eliminate risk,” he said. “It is the case that it is extremely unlikely that any school is likely to be the source of a Covid outbreak.”