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Schools chaos as second council REFUSES to restart classes next month but academies says they WILL

The bitter row over Government plans to reopen schools exploded into fresh coronavirus chaos today as a second council said it would defy Government orders to restart classes. 

Hartlepool in County Durham, joined Liverpool in saying it would ignore the plan to let some primary school pupils back to the school from June 1.

Education unions and ministers are at loggerheads over the safety of students and teachers, despite orders to reduce class sizes.

The largest doctor’s union backed the teachers representatives today, saying they are ‘absolutely right’ to argue it is unsafe for schools to open next month.

But the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield asked  unions to stop ‘squabbling’ because it would be ‘extremely damaging’ to keep children away from school.  

And academy groups last night said they would restart lessons from next month. Reach 2, Harris, Oasis and GEP teach a quarter of the UK’s children and are planning on following the Government guidance, The Times reported. 

That decision was in start contrast to the local authority in hartlepool, one of the most deprived areas of the North East.

In a statement last night the council said: ‘On Sunday, Boris Johnson outlined plans for the partial re-opening of schools for pupils in nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6. 

‘Given that Coronavirus cases locally continue to rise, Hartlepool Borough Council has been working with schools and we have agreed they will not reopen on Monday 1 June.

Anne Longfield (pictured), the Children’s Commissioner for England, called on union leaders to work with ministers to get pupils back to the classroom as quickly as possible

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: 'The language of ''squabbling'' isn’t helpful because there are some very deep and legitimate concerns about whether it is safe to return or not'

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: ‘The language of ”squabbling” isn’t helpful because there are some very deep and legitimate concerns about whether it is safe to return or not’

Hartlepool in County Durham, joined Liverpool in saying it would ignore the plan to let some primary school pupils back to the school from June 1

Hartlepool in County Durham, joined Liverpool in saying it would ignore the plan to let some primary school pupils back to the school from June 1

‘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. 

Four primary school chains will let children back into the classroom on June 1 

Four of the UK’s biggest primary school chains have decided to reopen on June 1, it has been revealed.

Reach 2, Harris, Oasis and GEP teach a quarter of the UK’s children and are planning on following the Government guidance, The Times reported. 

Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of Reach 2, the country’s biggest primary multi-academy trust (MAT) with 50 schools, said: ‘Our intention is to open all of our schools for the priority year groups, and will do so as long as the rigorous risk assessments we carry out for each school gives us the reassurance we need that we can keep our pupils and staff as safe as possible.’

MAT schools work independently from local authorities and are able to set their own rules and regulations.

They also cater to some of the country’s most disadvantaged children. 

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis trust which has 35 primary schools, told the newspaper opposition to reopening was ‘rather middle class’ and unhelpful for disadvantaged children who were missing lessons.

‘We continue to work with schools to put in place appropriate measure to help keep children and staff safe when a phased reopening is possible.’

Concerns have been echoed by The British Medical Association who warned the number of coronavirus cases was still too high to open schools safely.

In a letter to National Education Union general secretary Kevin Courtney on Friday, the BMA council’s chairman , Chaand Nagpau said: ‘We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK.

He added: ‘Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.’

The letter also said evidence from scientific research looking at the potential- outcomes of starting up schools was not concrete enough to say exactly what would happen.

Mr Nagpau said there is because of the ‘relatively small amount of research available and the uncharted territory we find ourselves in’. 

In contrast, the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield asked ‘unions to stop ‘squabbling’ because it would be ‘extremely damaging’ to keep children away from school. 

Ms Longfield has urged the sector to aspire for all children to return to school in some form before the summer, and to use school buildings for summer schools and family support over the holidays.  

She said: ‘We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school.

‘It’s time to stop squabbling and agree a staggered, safe return that is accompanied by rigorous testing of teachers, children and families.’

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning she added: ‘I’ve looked on somewhat with despair in the last week and a half as the debate has become more and more polarised. It does seem to have descended into very entrenched views.

‘My worry within all is that the needs of children and the best interests of children are disappearing from view. There are really strong reasons why children need to get back into school. Educationally, we know those that have most disadvantaged backgrounds just aren’t getting access to the teaching online that others are; but also the social reasons, for those children living in very fragile environments at home.

‘It’s really imperative that we see the kind of can do willingness to work together that we’ve seen in other parts of society – around the NHS if you like, when the hospitals were built.

‘It’s only through bringing people together who are the experts with that real commitment to find that solution that I believe we can progress’.

Her plans were in line with the government’s with education secretary Gavin Williamson warning it is ‘vital’ children get back into classrooms as quickly as possible.

The founder of one primary school trust, Steve Chalke, warned the criticism was a ‘rather middle class’ approach that wouldn’t help disadvantaged children who needed the structure of the classroom. 

But opponents, including Liverpool city council which revealed it would not be opening its classrooms on June 1 regardless of nationwide guidelines, have demanded proof schools will be safe for children and teachers once they have been reopened.    

Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon told Sky News: ‘The language of ”squabbling” isn’t helpful because there are some very deep and legitimate concerns about whether it is safe to return or not. 

‘It requires a number of things, first of all the evidence base. We need to make sure the evidence supports any decision that is made. Secondly we need clear language and direction from Government that is absolutely supported by the evidence. Thirdly we need to make sure every school environment is properly audited to make sure it can be safe.

‘Until the Government does that it isn’t surprising that teaching unions that represent their workers are saying we are not convinced that teachers and teaching staff and other people who work in schools can be kept safe and equally parents want to know their children will be safe.’

Appearing on the radio with Ms Longfield, Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said: ‘We’re not saying that it can’t happen. What we’re actually saying is exactly what the Children’s Commissioner has just said (to you). There needs to be a can do willingness and there need to be strong controls in place.

‘Once we have that clarity, clarity from government and also confirmation from employers that they are focusing on the health risks and managing those risks, mitigating those risks… then schools can be Covid-secure, and that’s really all we’re saying. 

‘A pragmatic approach is needed here, but there is a need for clarity and clear guidance from government to schools’. 

The President of the National Education Union, Amanda Martin, is planning on joining Jeremy Corbyn at a ‘virtual rally’ to tell activists how they can ‘resist’ the Government plans, the newspaper also reported. 

The moved sparked anger from critics including Richard Holden MP, a former special adviser to the Department of Education who accused Ms Martin of ‘putting political activism at the heart of its response to coronavirus’. 

Former Labour education secretary Alan Johnson also criticised trade union intransigence, while a string of school leaders and academics spoke up to back the reopening of classrooms next month. Academy schools in particular asked teachers to defy the unions and prepare for a reopening.

Meanwhile teaching unions have demanded the Government models how many black and Asian teachers could die as a result of lifting the lockdown, reported the Financial Times. 

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said  getting children back to school was 'vital' for their educational development

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said  getting children back to school was ‘vital’ for their educational development

It comes as the R Rate, the number of people one infected patient can pass the virus on to, rose from between 0.5 and 0.7 to closer to 0.9. The Government measures aim to keep the rate below one in order to control the spread of the illness. 

Some 384 more deaths were announced yesterday taking the total number of people who have died from coronavirus in the UK to 33,998.

There are 237,000 cases in the country, up 3,446 in one day. 

Hospital staff are treating just over 9,000 patients a day in England – down from 19,000 a few weeks ago and admissions are now falling by around 2,000 a week, according to head of the NHS Simon Stevens.

Yesterday, the Government’s top medical and scientific advisers met union leaders to reassure them the Government’s plans to reopen schools on June 1 were safe for children, staff and parents.

But union chiefs dug their heels in and suggested they would continue to advise members to shun preparations for primary school children in England to begin a gradual return next month. They were backed last night by the British Medical Association, the union that represents doctors.

Some 384 more deaths were announced yesterday taking the total number of people who have died from coronavirus in the UK to 33,998

Some 384 more deaths were announced yesterday taking the total number of people who have died from coronavirus in the UK to 33,998

It sets the scene for a major confrontation between the two sides in the next fortnight.

Ministers have drawn up proposals for a phased return that could see children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 start to go back to schools in England on June 1. But unions believe schools cannot be reopened safely and won’t engage with the plans.

Mrs Longfield, who represents the rights of children, urged union leaders to ‘face reality’ and work with ministers to ‘make this work’ as she warned of the dangers of youngsters missing out on vital education.

The Children’s Commissioner, who is independent of government, said: ‘I am disappointed that the debate about when some primary school kids can return has descended into a squabble between Government and the teaching unions. All sides need to show a greater will to work together in the interests of children.

‘We know that the longer schools are closed the greater the impact will be on social mobility and that many children are really struggling without seeing their friends and the structure that school brings.

‘We need to face the reality that, for a number of reasons, there are hundreds of thousands of children who can’t access meaningful education at home.’

Yesterday, the Government's top medical and scientific advisers met union leaders to reassure them the Government's plans to reopen schools on June 1 were safe for children, staff and parents (file image)

Yesterday, the Government’s top medical and scientific advisers met union leaders to reassure them the Government’s plans to reopen schools on June 1 were safe for children, staff and parents (file image)

Mrs Longfield added: ‘It is now up to the Government and the teaching unions to work together, along with the many teachers who are not in unions, to find solutions in the best interests of children and make this work.’

The National Education Union said its views were ‘unchanged’ after a briefing with the Government’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, said: ‘Very many questions that we asked were not addressed in the time available.’ 

Mr Johnson added: ‘Many of these children would be better off back at school. The early years are crucially important.

‘I hope that having sought assurances, the unions will be able to see schools reopen on June 1.’

Unity Howard, director of the New Schools Network, said: ‘The actions of the unions are completely unconscionable – now is the time for sensible grown-up debate.’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘Getting children back to school is vital for their educational development and many schools are already taking steps to welcome back their pupils.’

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries warned of the longer-term health risks to children who did not get a good education. 

It comes as Liverpool became the first English city to refuse to return children to school next month.

The Merseyside port’s council confirmed that from June 1 only the children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable would be allowed to attend – as they are now.

The local authority rejected ministers plans to restart lessons for some primary age groups before the summer. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s plans at the daily press conference, saying: ‘I wouldn’t support a proposal to start to reopen schools unless it was safe to do so – and it is safe to do so.’

Union leaders met the Government’s scientific advisers yesterday, but speaking afterwards Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it left many of their questions unanswered.  

Earlier this week Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson branded the Government plan ‘reckless’ and yesterday Steve Reddy, the city’s director of children and young people’s services, said he was writing to all parents to tell them not to expect schools to reopen for everyone on June 1.

In the letter Mr Reddy said: ‘Our guiding principle is that schools can only reopen to other pupils when it is safe to do so and not a moment before.

‘Only once we can be sure that schools are safe for both children and staff will they be able to open to more children. The safety of your child, and of our staff, is our top priority.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government's plans at the daily press conference, saying; 'I wouldn't support a proposal to start to reopen schools unless it was safe to do so - and it is safe to do so'

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s plans at the daily press conference, saying; ‘I wouldn’t support a proposal to start to reopen schools unless it was safe to do so – and it is safe to do so’

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured yesterday) said getting children back to school is 'vital' for their educational development and he has welcomed the efforts by many schools in England to prepare for a wider reopening

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured yesterday) said getting children back to school is ‘vital’ for their educational development and he has welcomed the efforts by many schools in England to prepare for a wider reopening

‘Some parents have asked me when schools may fully reopen. This will vary from school to school. Each headteacher has to rigorously assess the risks of fully reopening for their particular school.

Downing Street rejects supplying teachers with coronavirus masks 

Teachers do not have to wear face coverings unless providing care for a child who has come into school with symptoms, Downing Street has said.

The idea of teachers being supplied with masks as a way to calm coronavirus transmission fears was rejected this morning.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: ‘Our guidance on face coverings is clear, they are for enclosed public spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet such as crowded shops or public transport.

‘Schools do not fall into that category.

‘It is rare for a teacher to have to wear PPE, they should only be worn if providing close-contact care for a child with symptoms,’ he said.

He added: ‘Any child with symptoms shouldn’t be going into school in the first place.’

‘The size and layout of the school building, and the availability of staff, will affect their assessments. It will be the case that the schools will do it differently. Your child’s headteacher will be in touch with you in due course.’ 

However at the press conference tonight NHS England’s medical director of primary care said many vulnerable children would be better off at school.

London GP Dr Nikki Kanani said that ‘risk is relative’, adding: ‘Some of our children who are more vulnerable need more support, need to be back in school to get the benefit of both the social environment but also the physical space as well. 

‘It is very important that we carefully get our children back to school because actually that is what is going to be good for them in the long run.’

This morning Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford told Good Morning Britain ‘new cohorts’ will not be brought into schools on June 1, although some children would return before the summer.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government would be speaking to parents and staff so they knew everything had been done to make the school environment safe and give them ‘confidence to return’.

‘We’d like to take a bit longer to do that, we think it will pay off in the end and that’s the nature of the way that we would do things in Wales,’ Mr Drakeford said.

But academy schools were told to ‘start planning to reopen’ in June. Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, which represents the semi-autonomous state schools stressed that they needed to ‘rebuild parental confidence’.

But she said that the June 1 date to restart some primary school classes was just the beginning and not an ‘absolute deadline’.

She told The Telegraph: ‘My message to headteachers is that we should start planning to reopen. 

‘The planning needs to take a risk based approach, we need to make a full assessment of the risks which relate to site capacity and number of staff.

‘We need to be building parental confidence as far as possible with families. Communication with staff, with parents and with communities is crucial.’      

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which has 35 primary schools across the country, said the trust plans to admit more pupils to its schools from June 1, the date proposed by the Government, saying the closure was disproportionately harming poorer children.

Mr Chalke, whose schools on average have 45 per cent of children eligible for free school meals (FSMs), said: ‘The greatest risk to their health, for many of them, is their mental health. They’re locked in.’

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said it was vital pupils were back in classrooms within weeks, both to allow key workers to keep working to save lives from coronavirus and to prevent youngsters missing out on vital learning.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said it was vital pupils were back in classrooms within weeks, both to allow key workers to keep working to save lives from coronavirus and to prevent youngsters missing out on vital learning.

Ministers have drawn up plans for a ‘phased’ return after the summer half-term, with some junior classes potentially going back from June 1. 

‘My kids won’t be going, not until it’s safe’ 

Militant parents are refusing to send their children back to school, saying the Government’s plans are not safe.

Despite getting letters from schools confirming plans to restart classes, they are planning to keep their youngsters at home. 

Mum-of-four Lois Smith, 33, from Widnes in Cheshire, told the Mirror Online:  ‘My kids won’t be going, not until it’s safe. They aren’t going back when there are still hundreds of people dying each day.

‘I just think it’s ludicrous to even think about sending them back. It’s a parent’s job to protect their kids, I don’t care if I get fined.

‘I haven’t heard one person say they are going to send their kids in.’

However, while most teachers have worked hard to help their pupils during the lockdown, education unions have told the Government to ‘step back’ from the plans – and urged their members not to co-operate. 

Their main concern is over whether schools can safely enact social distancing, even with class sizes limited to 15 or fewer pupils. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis earlier insisted that social distancing can be done in schools. 

He said it was vital pupils were back in classrooms to allow key workers to keep working to save lives from coronavirus and to prevent youngsters missing out on vital learning.  

Mr Lewis told BBC Breakfast:  ‘Well I think one of the things teachers are able to do, both in the classroom and outside the classroom, and all of us as parents and people in society, is to continue to educate each other around social distance.

‘So yes, even in a school environment I think it is important that we do what we can to encourage and explain and educate around social distancing.’

Minister for Children and Families Vicky Ford this afternoon said the potential reopening of schools to some pupils on June 1 depends on the scientific advice at the time.

In a question and answer session hosted on the parenting forum Mumsnet, she said: ‘We will only do this provided that the five key tests set by Government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing.

‘As a result, we are asking schools, colleges and childcare providers to plan on this basis, ahead of confirmation that these tests are met.

‘The confirmation will depend on science advice at that time.’

It came after Mr Williamson demanded unions do their ‘duty’ and stop their opposition.

Writing for the Daily Mail, he said children need to start returning to classrooms ‘in the interests of their welfare and education’. 

Children in France, which went into an even stricter lockdown that Britain, have been back at school for a week and those in Germany and Denmark for the better part of a month. 

Downing Street this morning also insisted that teachers would not require personal protective equipment to return to work. 

Private sector says: We could reopen in weeks

Private schools have been working around ‘around the clock’ using online learning – and are confident of successfully reopening on the Government’s timetable.

Despite taking a significant financial hit due to the pandemic, fee-paying schools have been leading the way in responding to the challenges, sector leaders said.

Top schools including Eton College and the Perse School, Cambridge, have been posting free educational resources which are accessible to all young people.

Professor Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said his 1,300 member schools were ‘very pleased that there will be limited openings after June 1’. He added: ‘They are enthusiastic about the idea that they can see pupils for things like university application discussions and to enable pupils to do those things that can’t be done online, like coursework, science practicals and art.’

Neil Roskilly, chief executive of the Independent Schools Association, which has more than 500 member schools, said: ‘They have been working around the clock on online provision and plans to welcome back pupils to the classroom.

‘The huge majority of teachers will be putting their interests first.’

The National Education Union (NEU), which has 450,000 members, has described the Government’s plans as ‘reckless’ and advised teachers to ‘not engage’ with the move.

The NASUWT, the UK’s second largest teachers’ union, last night threatened to sue school heads if teachers were ‘expected to go into a school that is not safe’.

Ministers are concerned that if the unions sabotage a return to school, many of the most disadvantaged youngsters will lose out on vital education.

And there is an acceptance that many parents will be unable to return to work until schools are open again. Mr Williamson said extensive measures had been put in place for a secure return to school, adding: ‘Safety comes first.’

Union chiefs have been offered a briefing with the Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty this afternoon to reassure them the plans are safe for children, staff and parents.

In his article for the Mail today, Mr Williamson paid tribute to the skills of teachers, saying: ‘Parents are doing a fantastic job helping children learn at home, but nothing can take the place of a teacher.’

But he urged unions to do their ‘duty’ and drop their blanket objections to a June 1 return, saying: ‘All of us in education have a duty to work together to get children back to school.’ 

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said children from disadvantaged backgrounds faced a ‘potential decade of educational disadvantage’ unless schools went back soon. He added: ‘The unions have got to engage on this.’ 

In an extraordinary intervention, former Labour education secretary David Blunkett accused the unions of ‘working against the interests of children’ by continuing to frustrate teachers who are desperate to get back into the classroom.    

Lord Blunkett said he was ‘deeply critical’ of the NEU’s approach, saying all sides had to ‘work together to get over fear as well as dealing with the genuine risk’.

He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘It is about how can we work together to make it work as safely – we can’t 100 per cent – as safely as possible. Anyone who works against that in my view is working against the interests of children.’

Lord Blunkett said other workers, such as those in supermarkets, had accepted a level of risk in performing their jobs as he suggested teachers should do the same.

And he said the most disadvantaged pupils were being penalised, adding: ‘They will not have tutors to be able to recover, they will not have parents who had higher education, they will rely entirely on us getting back to normal as quickly as possible.’

Boris Johnson ordered the closure of schools on March 18, just days before the wider lockdown.

Many schools have remained open to look after vulnerable children and those of frontline ‘key’ workers. But in practice, most have only had tiny numbers attending.

Under the Government’s plans, children will be placed in small classes and rigorous procedures are being put in place to limit spread of the virus.

Ministers hope to get all primary children back for a month before the summer holidays. Secondary pupils in Years 10 and 12, who have GCSE and A-level exams next year, will go back part time to allow for catch-up sessions with tutors.

Education sources said Mr Williamson was happy for his 15-year-old daughter, who is in Year 10, to go back to school.

Sir Anthony Seldon, former headmaster of Wellington College, said: ‘Teachers want to and need to be back in schools. As long as the scientists say they can, it is utterly wrong for unions to try to block and discourage teachers.’

But union leaders yesterday insisted they had grave concerns about an early return to school.

Mary Bousted, joint general-secretary of the NEU, described the bid to reopen schools as ‘nothing short of reckless’. 

And in a letter last night Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said it was putting schools ‘on notice’ that they faced potential legal action for ‘breach of duty of care and personal injury due to foreseeable risk’ if they asked teachers to go back to work too soon.  

Gavin Williamson: For sake of all pupils, unions must do duty

By Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, for the Daily Mail

Rarely do I find myself nodding along in agreement with past Labour ministers but when I heard former Labour education secretary David Blunkett on the radio this week saying why it’s important to get the most disadvantaged children back into schools as soon as we can, I thought he was making very good sense.

As Education Secretary, I pay attention when experts give me advice – I’d get into hot water very quickly if I didn’t. If, based on the latest scientific advice, we can get a limited number of children back to school, then I believe it’s my duty to do all I can to get them back there because being in school with a teacher is the best way to learn.

Of course safety comes first but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child’s education from not getting them back in the classroom.

It is now over seven weeks since schools were restricted to all but a very small number of children and until the rate of infection from coronavirus starts to come down, we cannot bring more students back.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Gavin Williamson called on unions to support moves to start a staged reopening of schools

Writing in the Daily Mail, Gavin Williamson called on unions to support moves to start a staged reopening of schools

In that time I’ve been constantly talking to heads and teachers’ unions about how best to open schools in a phased and careful way. Later today I have arranged for union leaders to meet the Chief Medical Officer and other experts so they can be briefed on the scientific advice underpinning our approach.

The good news is that we are now past the peak of the virus. At the weekend the Prime Minister set out his roadmap for recovery and the second step of that plan is to start to get more children back into classrooms. Let me spell out why these proposals have put the interests of all our children first. The best place for youngsters to learn is in school and I have wanted to get more children back there as soon as possible. Parents are doing a fantastic job helping them to learn at home but nothing can take the place of a teacher.

It is known that the first few years of a child’s education are so important.

It is during this time that young students begin to develop essential social skills and start to learn the basics that will have a huge bearing on how well they do later in life.

That is why younger children are at the head of the queue to go back to school, along with pupils who will be moving up to secondary school and those older pupils who are going to be sitting their GCSEs and A Levels next year.

Now I want to be clear, this is the first phase of a controlled and careful return to school. It’s not happening overnight and it isn’t going to happen without schools putting in place a range of protective measures to reduce transmission. The safety of children and their teachers is my No 1 priority.

I know some teaching unions still have concerns, just as I know parents and teachers have some worries.

I intend to carry on talking to all of them and working with them on any issues they may have.

Schools in other nations have achieved started to open following the pandemic. Above are children queuing using traffic cones at a primary school in Strasbourg, France

Schools in other nations have achieved started to open following the pandemic. Above are children queuing using traffic cones at a primary school in Strasbourg, France

All of us in education have a duty to work together to get children back to school.

Let me reassure families that we are giving schools all the guidance and support they will need to welcome pupils back.

This includes keeping class sizes small, making sure children stay within small groups, and being rigorous about hygiene, cleaning and staggering break and mealtimes. We’re also paying close attention to what they’re doing in other countries, such as Denmark, where despite some initial concerns, children are back and adapting, as they always seem to do.

Children thrive and grow in schools best when they’re enjoying being with their friends and teachers.

It is time to start bringing some of our children back in the interests of their welfare and education.

But this will be done carefully so it’s right for our children, right for your family and those who work in schools and right for our communities.

If Europe can, why can’t we? 

Denmark:

  • Reopened primary schools and nurseries a month ago, and has seen infection rates continue to fall
  • Children kept in small groups of ten to 12, with minimum contact
  • Groups arrive at separate times, eat lunch separately, stay in their own playground zones and keep one teacher for all classes
  • Children sit two metres apart at individual desks and do not share water bottles or stationery 

Germany:

  • Reopened schools for older children earlier this month and plans to allow younger year groups back in summer term
  • Students in final year were first back for exams, and told to disinfect their hands with sanitiser and sit at least two metres apart
  • A pilot scheme sees teenagers are disease-tested every four days, and swab their own throats

France:

  • Nurseries and primary schools were allowed back from Monday, with secondary schools to gradually reopen next week
  • Pictures at one school showed children sitting alone in ‘isolation’ chalk squares in their playground
  • Pupils aged 11 to 15 expected to wear face masks – made available for those who do not have them
  • Class sizes kept to 15 and creches capped at a maximum of ten children per group
Arrows placed on the floor to safely guide pupils at a primary school in Paris, France

Arrows placed on the floor to safely guide pupils at a primary school in Paris, France

Greece:

  • Expected to reopen next week, but row has broken out over plans to install cameras in classrooms
  • Government wanted to allow live-streaming of lessons to allow smaller classes, with families deciding if their children attend school or learn from home
  • But teaching unions and opposition parties have objected over privacy fears and said scheme poses a ‘serious risk’ to students

Sweden:

  • Kept schools open for children under 16 throughout the outbreak
  • Pupils and teachers with any symptoms were urged to stay at home, and schools and colleges for older teenagers were closed
  • School premises cleaned at least once a day. Staggered break times, limits on assemblies and spaced out desks and chairs

Finland:

  • Allowed children back to school yesterday with strict social distancing and hand-washing rules
  • Arrival times staggered and unused spaces turned into classes to allow pupils to spread out
  • Schools will switch between classroom and distance teaching if infections spikes again

Norway:

  • Nurseries and primary schools reopened in April amid some opposition, but health experts said there had been no rise in infection rates
  • Children have been kept in small groups that have a minimum of physical interaction
  • Other schools and colleges across the country were allowed to reopen this week

Switzerland:

  • Allowed primary schools to reopen from Monday
  • Secondary schools and colleges will be allowed to open next month, provided authorities do not see a rise in infections 
A teacher wears a face mask with her pupils at a school in Chasne sur Illet, west France

A teacher wears a face mask with her pupils at a school in Chasne sur Illet, west France

Netherlands:

  • Primary schools partially reopened on Monday, along with nurseries, libraries, hairdressers and beauty salons

OTHERS:

  • Spain and Italy said schools will remain shut until September
  • In Ireland schools will remain closed until at least September, but nurseries could reopen in June

Teachers’ union threatens to SUE school chiefs if staff are put at risk by returning to classrooms too soon during coronavirus lockdown 

By Josh White, Education reporter for the Daily Mail 

Britain’s second-largest teaching union last night threatened to sue school chiefs if teachers are ‘put at risk’ in the classroom.

The NASUWT, which has 310,000 members, has written to heads, academy bosses and local authorities, outlining their stance.

Along with the National Education Union, the NASUWT has been at the forefront of efforts to delay the reopening of schools until September, but their objections have been described by critics as ‘political posturing’ and ‘scaremongering’.

Darren Northcott, the union’s national official for education, told 5Live on Wednesday: ‘There’s a real risk here that some schools will believe that they can safely open from June 1, when we are very clear that they can’t.’

Britain's second-largest education union, NASUWT, has written to schools threatening to torpedo plans for a June 1 reopening. Pictured is Darren Northcott, the union's national official for education

The union's general secretary is Dr Patrick Roach

Britain’s second-largest education union, NASUWT, has written to schools threatening to torpedo plans for a June 1 reopening. It is headed up by Dr Patrick Roach, right. Its national official for education is Darren Northcott. The union says it has put the government ‘on notice’

The union last night ramped up its attempts to torpedo the plans by threatening court action against school bosses, trust chief executives, and local authorities who ignore ‘serious health, safety and welfare issues’ in the classroom..

It came as the NEU also increased its pressure on ministers. The union said last night:

  • Teachers should keep online tuition ‘to a minimum’;
  • They should not do any online teaching that they feel uncomfortable about;
  • Teachers are worried about the security of online teaching;
  • And they should not be expected to carry out routine marking or grading of pupils’work 

The NASUWT letter says the union is ‘left with no alternative but to put employers and the Government on notice, by reserving our members’ legal rights in the context of a tortious claim for breach of duty of care and personal injury due to foreseeable risk, and any other legal recourse available’.

Liverpools’ Labour mayor may block return to class 

Pupils in Liverpool might not go back to school with the rest of England after its mayor warned he would not ‘take risks with children’s lives’.

Joe Anderson vowed to ‘resist’ reopening after half term unless the city’s infection rate had dropped. As of Monday, Liverpool had 1,515 confirmed cases, equivalent to 306 in every 100,000 people – higher than the overall rate in England of 244 per 100,000.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, above

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, above

Labour councillor Mr Anderson said: ‘This is a life and death decision. If we lose one child or one teacher or one teaching assistant or one school cook, that’s one too many. Our levels of Covid-19 infections are higher than everywhere else and I’m not about to take risks with children’s or teaching staff’s lives. Only when we are convinced it’s safe for children to return will we allow it.’

The ex-social worker, who is running Liverpool from home after he was forced to shield for health reasons, was attacked by some online critics. One tweeted: ‘We need ‘can doers’ to guide us out of this crisis and save jobs and the economy. ‘Can’t doers’ like him should admit they’re out of their depth and let others take over.’

But Steve Rotherham, the Metro Mayor responsible for the whole region, said: ‘Mayor Anderson is right that the safeguarding of our children, teachers and school staff has to be the number one priority.’

‘The NASUWT is clear that no teacher should be expected to go into a school that is not safe, and until it can be demonstrated that it is safe to do so, we will be continuing to support and advise members on that basis.’

Signed by union general secretary Dr Patrick Roach, the letter concludes: ‘The NASUWT recognises that schools and employers have been placed in a situation where the wrong decision will result in people becoming seriously ill and dying, and will therefore appreciate that there can be no compromise on health and safety.

‘If this means that schools are unable to open safely before September because they are unable to make arrangements to safeguard their staff and pupils, then that position must be accepted.’ Despite undermining ministers’ attempts to reopen the country’s schools, the NEU says teachers should keep online tuition ‘to a minimum’ is necessary because face-to-face teaching ‘cannot be easily replicated’. It also told members that ‘no teacher should be expected to carry out any online teaching with which they feel uncomfortable or in the absence of agreed protocols’.

It is understood some teachers have privacy concerns, and fear their lessons could be recorded or manipulated by pupils. But Professor Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘There are appropriate safeguarding policies in place and it is all going pretty well. So those pupils who are not receiving online teaching, simply because their teachers think it is risky, have every reason to feel very disappointed.’

The NEU adds that teachers ‘should not be expected to carry out routine marking or grading’, saying: ‘To do so would be to disadvantage those who do not have the resources and support available at home to make that fair.’

For secondary school pupils, many of whom will be facing exams next year, the swingeing union restrictions state that teachers ‘should not be asked to personally contact their students daily’, except those who are vulnerable.

Neil Roskilly, of the Independent Schools Association, said the NEU’s fears about online learning were ‘theoretical’. He added: ‘There’s nothing unsurmountable for schools with good safeguarding policies. Schools are very used to dealing with safeguarding issues.’

A teacher wears a face mask during lessons at a Parisian school. Nurseries and primary schools in the country were allowed back from Monday

A teacher wears a face mask during lessons at a Parisian school. Nurseries and primary schools in the country were allowed back from Monday

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign For Real Education, said: ‘Many teachers are being courageous and still working but a minority are enjoying it.’

NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said last night: ‘The NEU is not against online working. Our members are using online learning to support their pupils. Our guidance is to help them do this safely for themselves and for their pupils.

‘Arrangements for online learning must also protect teachers’ and children’s privacy and ensure children are kept safe while online. The NEU is supporting teachers and families to do the best they can with the resources available to them.’

ANDREW PIERCE: The Corbynite lover of communist Cuba who says the first word she learned was ‘strike’ 

By Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail

Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, sent members to Cuba

Mary Bousted, head of the National Education Union, sent members to Cuba

A clue as to the political philosophy of Dr Mary Bousted, the teachers’ union leader trying to sabotage next month’s return to school, can be found in her passion for communist Cuba.

The hard-Left joint general secretary of the National Education Union has authorised spending thousands of pounds of union money to send members on fact-finding trips to the one-party state.

The trips have understandably upset some members because of Cuba’s disregard for human rights. A motion from teachers in Lewisham at last year’s NEU annual conference demanded an end to their fees being spent on such jaunts.

The motion said: ‘Cuba is a police state with no free elections, free speech or free trade unions… The trade union movement is controlled by the state, and the leaders of the single union CTC are appointed by the state and the Communist Party. The right to strike is not legally recognized, and in practice it is denied…’

There was no embarrassing defeat of the motion because it wasn’t called for debate – in October another NEU delegation is going back for a week-long visit.

It’s no surprise, therefore, to find that Bousted backed the last Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – a man who hailed the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro on his death in 2016 as ‘heroic’.

A former president of the TUC, she became one of the most powerful female trade unionists when, in 2017, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers – which she had led for more than a decade – merged with the National Union of Teachers. The combined 450,000 membership makes it the biggest education union in Europe.

Last year, under her joint leadership, the new union demanded the repeal of all legislation designed to curb the past excesses of the trade unions. It passed a motion arguing that flying pickets should be allowed to demonstrate outside school gates and that the closed shop should return, with teachers who refused to join unions dismissed.

Ms Bousted is shown on the picket lines outside Richmond College, London, in June 2011

Ms Bousted is shown on the picket lines outside Richmond College, London, in June 2011

‘The Conservative laws have made solidarity strikes illegal and prevent unions taking political strike action,’ stated the motion. ‘These laws prevent us striking to defend the NHS… [and] the anti-union laws prevent effective picketing.’

Bousted also backed the thousands of schoolchildren who skipped lessons several times last year to join the disruptive Extinction Rebellion environmental protests.

‘We stand in full solidarity with all students striking or protesting against climate change… [we] oppose any reprisals against students taking action to fight climate change, such as detentions, exclusions. The rights to strike and protest are fundamental democratic rights for students and workers alike,’ she said.

When it comes to industrial action, Bousted has form. In 2011 she led the ATL union, which was founded in 1978, into its first national strike as part of coordinated action by unions against the coalition government’s plans to change public sector pensions.

‘We expect to be taken seriously and to have the political and industrial clout to make sure our voice is heard,’ she cried.

It’s hard not to hear her voice. During pension and pay negotiations, successive education secretaries held regular meetings with the bosses of the education unions. Perhaps thinking herself the smartest of them, Bousted seemingly did most of the talking whilst regularly picking fights with the minister.

‘What I think I am doing is just telling it how it is,’ she once said, revelling in her confrontational approach. ‘People think I am strident because they don’t like what I’m saying.’

She has previously clashed with Michael Gove, who was education secretary in David Cameron's coalition government, over his wish to restore traditional subjects

She has previously clashed with Michael Gove, who was education secretary in David Cameron’s coalition government, over his wish to restore traditional subjects

There was at least one stand-up row with Michael Gove, who was education secretary in David Cameron’s coalition government. They clashed over Gove’s wish to restore traditional subjects in the classrooms.

An English teacher before she moved into teacher-training, Bousted said she objected to focusing too much on traditional subjects which require pupils to learn material by heart.

‘It’s outdated, and fails to equip children for life in the modern world,’ she said.

‘If a powerful knowledge curriculum means recreating the best that has been thought by dead, white men – then I’m not very interested in it.’ Bousted wanted less Shakespeare and more works from Caribbean, Indian and Chinese writers. Asked about her rocky relationship with Gove, she said: ‘There was a lot of shouting and finger-pointing.’

No fan of Tory education secretaries, she never had any time for Tony Blair’s government either – and opposed his drive towards academy schools. One senior Whitehall insider said that she picked fights for the sake of it. ‘Mary Bousted regards the Conservatives as her professional, political, and philosophical foe.

‘The latest posturing over the lockdown is entirely typical of her tactics.’

The insider added: ‘It’s all about the union, to hell with the teachers who want to get back in to the classroom – let alone the children. Bousted is typical of the breed of trade unionist who is a middle-class leftist.

‘For her, it was school, university, and teacher training, and two decades running a union.’ Bousted, 60, the second youngest of eight children, was brought up in Bolton in the 1960s. Her father was the headmaster of a local primary school; her mother, a die-hard Labour supporter, was also a teacher. She jokes that the word ‘strike’ was one of the first she learned as a child – after climbing onto her father’s knee she used to scan the headlines as he read The Manchester Guardian, his daily newspaper.

Given Mary Bousted’s determination to confront the Government, it is a word she will only too willingly put into action to try to get her way. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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