Coronavirus: Leeds City Council latest to break from government school plans

Coronavirus: Leeds City Council latest to break from government school plans

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Richard Beecham at 9:08am 20th May 2020. (Updated at 9:14am 20th May 2020)

Another Yorkshire council moves away from government advice to reopen schools in June

Leeds City Council has said it will leave the decision of whether to restart lessons to individual schools, adding they will ‘not expect every school to open from day one’ as lockdown measures ease.

Earlier this month, the government declared Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils could return to school from June 1 at the earliest, along with the children of key workers and vulnerable people, who had already been attending school.

Leeds City Council’s portfolio holder for learning Coun Jonathan Pryor claimed any reintroduction of lessons to primary school children should be done in a way that ‘minimises’ the risk of Covid-19 infection to staff, pupils and parents.

He added there would be no one-size-fits-all attitude to schools reopening, and that each school should be allowed to reintroduce pupils at its own pace.

In a lengthy statement sent, Coun Pryor 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.

“To decide what is feasible, we are asking schools to carry out an initial comprehensive risk assessment so that leaders can evaluate potential solutions on how they can safely and effectively accommodate eligible pupils. 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 therefore, 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.”

School desk

Speaking at a public address on May 10, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed the UK may be in a position to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages.

Mr Johnson said that children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 would be the first to be welcomed back, if infection rates were to drop a significant amount and if the government’s five tests were met.

Coun Pryor added:

“We still require some clarifications and actions from the Government before numbers returning to schools can substantially increase. 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.”

schools - RADAR

Coun Pryor concluded:

“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.

“It is important to note that schools have been open throughout the past two months, providing education in person for vulnerable children and key workers’ children – in addition to providing education and pastoral care to those children at home. This has been a phenomenal task and we thank everyone involved.

“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.”