Coronavirus: Hartlepool Council defies government advice to reopen schools on 1 June

15 May 2020, 23:08

Schools across the country have been almost completely shut since the UK entered lockdown
Schools across the country have been almost completely shut since the UK entered lockdown. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Hartlepool Council has joined a growing list of local authorities in defying the government's advice to reopen schools from 1 June.

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans for the partial reopening of nurseries and schools for pupils in reception, Year One and Year Six.

However, on Friday, Liverpool City Council confirmed that children in the city would not be returning to schools "until mid-June at the earliest."

Read more: Teachers criticise government for lack of answers after crunch talks on opening schools

Read more: Let schools in high risk communities make own decision about reopening say council leaders

Writing to parents via the Liverpool Express, Director of Children and Young People’s Services Steve Reddy said: "We will not be pressuring anyone to send their child to school since you know your children and personal situation best.

"Once you have all the information, you will be able to make an informed decision."

Later in the day, Hartlepool Council followed in the northwestern city's footsteps by announcing that schools in the North East town will not be reopening on 1 June.

A post on Twitter read: "Given that Covid-19 cases locally continue to rise, we have been working with schools and we have agreed they will not reopen on Monday 1 June.

"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.

Read more: Government faces pressure over plans to reopen schools

Read more: Teachers' unions call on government to 'step back' on reopening schools

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

The Labour leader of Gateshead Council, Martin Gannon, called the government's easing of the lockdown rules "frankly madness" and said his advice to people was still to "stay at home."

Mr Gannon said there was evidence that the rate of infection, measured through the R-value, was greater than one in his borough.

He added that his views on the lockdown were echoed by his counterparts in Newcastle and Sunderland.

Further south, Slough Borough Council also confirmed pupils would not be asked to return until safe to do so.

In a letter released to local parents, guardians and carers, it said: "Many schools in Slough have said that they will not be welcoming more children into school until 8 June at the earliest."

On Thursday, Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty the lockdown changes announced by Mr Johnson on Sunday were "a little rushed" and "went a little too far" for the North.

"Lockdown was eased too soon for the North"

The "Stay at Home" message was dropped too early for the north of England, he added.

"It's a different picture across England and we certainly are a couple of weeks behind London and the South East so I have a concern about the way it was done and what was actually communicated," he continued.

"I just think it would help everybody if we had that R number published for all of the English regions because then the public could make their own judgements about how much risk they would be exposing themselves to if they were to make major changes to their life."

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He added: "Given that the hospital cases here are higher, and the R number is higher, any changes will expose the North to greater risk given those factors. What I wanted to do was say to the government at least give us that information about the rates of infection so we can apply some extra guidance to your message."

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teacher's union NASUWT, responded to Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, saying: "This advice reflects the fact the government has provided no evidence that opening schools next month will be safe for children or teachers.

"The government must now publish the scientific evidence it is relying on to claim that it will be safe for children to return to school.
"The NASUWT is clear that there is no requirement or obligation currently on any school to reopen to more pupils from 1 June."