Government plans for more children to begin returning to school at the beginning of June (see “Phased wider opening of schools, colleges and nurseries”) have been criticised by trade unions and are coming under pressure from a number of local authorities.

Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Calderdale and Brighton and Hove are a few of the councils who have advised schools against wider reopening or urged caution arguing that schools should be allowed to “work at their own pace”.

Academies have the freedom to make their own decision about when to expand opening, unlike the two-thirds of primary schools supported by local authorities.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council executive member for learning, skills, employment and equality, said: “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.”

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said that councils will need the power to close schools or nurseries if testing indicates clusters of new COVID-19 cases.

The LGA said that there are concerns about how schools will be able to impose strict social distancing measures, particularly with younger and more vulnerable children, which pose a potential threat to staff and other children’s families if they take the virus home with them.

It too wants local flexibility to allow some schools to take their own decisions about reopening - in consultation with their local authorities.

Councillor Judith Blake, who chairs the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Plans to re-open schools and early years settings must focus on reassuring parents that it will be safe for children to return to school. Publication of the scientific advice is vital to help provide that reassurance.”

The Government will not be reassured by a survey of 29,000 members of the teachers' union NASUWT which found that just one in 20 thought it would be safe for more pupils to return next month.

Last reviewed 22 May 2020