Labour councillor joins trade unions in questioning whether June 1 open date for schools will be ‘safe’

A Labour county councillor has joined forces with local trade union members to question whether the June 1 start date for school reopenings will be ‘safe’ for pupils.

Councillor Jane Birch is the shadow portfolio holder for education at the county council.
Councillor Jane Birch is the shadow portfolio holder for education at the county council.

Members of the Northamptonshire branch of the National Education Union (NEU) have said that reopening schools is playing ‘russian roulette’ unless staff and children are ‘comprehensively tested’.

And Councillor Jane Birch, the Labour party’s shadow education portfolio holder at County Hall, called on the county council to help schools carry out a ‘comprehensive and robust risk assessment’.

From Monday (June 1), the Government is asking primary schools to welcome back children in Nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups. It will also ask secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full time provision they are offering to priority groups.

But Pat Markey and Elaine Coe, joint secretaries of the Northants Branch NEU, said in a statement: “As teachers and support staff members of the National Education Union in

Northamptonshire, we are looking forward to schools reopening to more children as

soon as it is safe to do so.

“As we are part of the community in which we work, the safety of the children, their families, and staff in schools, must be our priority, particularly if we are to avoid a second spike in the virus. There is currently no comprehensive testing of teachers, support staff, and children currently in schools, and no plans for this to be in place for the beginning of June. So when a child coughs or sneezes in class, we will all just be hoping that the child is not an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

“This is playing ‘Russian Roulette’ and is completely reckless. Others measures such as social distancing will be part of new safety plans, but something that is almost impossible to maintain in schools.”

Dan Perriman, the Northamptonshire Federation County Secretary for the teacher trade union NASUWT, said he also had ‘some serious concerns’. He said schools should only reopen if the R rate of the virus is lower than 0.5, the track and trace system is fully up and running with higher test numbers, risk assessments should be passed by all unions, social distancing measures should be in place, and public transport is safe and running again.

And Councillor Birch added: “It is important that children return to school when it is safe for them, the staff, the families and the wider community. We are asking Northamptonshire County Council to help and support schools to carry out a comprehensive and robust risk assessment. We endorse the Trade Union Congress principles and tests.”

She added: “With this information, teachers, parents, children and the unions can decide if and when they are confident to go back to school safely. We should not put the children, staff, their families and our communities at risk.”

It is understood some headteachers took part in a virtual Q&A session with health and safety officers from the county council this week.

Writing to headteachers on May 19, Sharon Muldoon, the county council’s deputy director of children’s services, stated: “Schools should not be opening to additional pupils unless a risk assessment has been conducted and is in place. Once this has been developed, aspects should be shared with all stakeholders. However, a process needs to be created so that this live document is updated regularly to reflect the ever-changing position incorporating any DfE or Local Authority guidance updates. As it is updated the new assessment needs to be shared with all staff.”