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Tory minister appears to backtrack on school return date as council revolt grows

A CABINET minister today appeared to backtrack on the June 1 target date to reopen schools following a rebellion by at least 18 councils. 

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland admitted that he did not know if schools would be able to open on June 1, the government’s target date to send more children back to classrooms.

The admission comes as 18 councils, representing 1,500 schools, announced that they will refuse to ask schools to reopen year-one and year-six classrooms next month.

Pupils in reception, vulnerable children and those of key workers have continued going to school throughout the coronavirus lockdown. 

Tim Swift,  leader of West Yorkshire’s Calderdale Council, which joined the council revolt on Tuesday, said he did not believe there was enough evidence that infection in the community was falling. 

“Our priority as a council and as a Labour group throughout this crisis has been to put the safety and wellbeing of our community first,” he said. 

“For these reasons … we are strongly advising schools that they should not be doing this as soon as June 1.”

The Justice Secretary said that the government was “working towards” opening schools on June 1, but he “accepts the point that there may well be issues from employers that need to be addressed.”

The start date has faced a fierce backlash from teaching unions. 

Today NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said that the government had “thus far failed to win the trust and confidence of teachers about the safety of reopening schools.” 

A recent poll of 29,000 NASUWT members suggested that only 5 per cent thought it would be safe for more pupils to return to school next month. 

The National EDucation Union (NEU) has also strongly opposed a premature return to schools, stressing that a track-and-trace system must be in place beforehand.  

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney welcomed Boris Johnson’s claim during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons that the system would be implemented by June 1. But he added that Mr Johnson must also make public the advice from the government’s Sage scientific committee. 

Education Minister Baroness Elizabeth Berridge was also grilled today by peers on transparency of advice about schools. 

Christine Blower, the former general secretary of teachers’ union NUT (now NEU) said: “Sage has not published any evidence for over a week at a time when critical decisions are being taken.” 

Lady Berridge responded that the government was “committed to transparency” and had published the last Sage paper on May 5. 

 

 

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