South Tyneside Council chiefs write to Boris Johnson expressing 'grave concerns' over reopening schools amid 'widespread and significant distress'

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Council chiefs have written to the Prime Minister expressing ‘grave concerns’ over reopening South Tyneside schools on June 1 and demanding an urgent reply.

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm and Children’s Services lead Councillor Moira Smith said the plans to bring reopen schools to reception, year 1 and year 6 by June 1 at the earliest had caused ‘widespread and significant distress’.

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Boris Johnson announced the plans as part of his road map for easing coronavirus measures, but they have been met with a mixed reaction.

South Shields Town Hall South Shields Town Hall
South Shields Town Hall | jpress

Teaching unions, schools, councils and parents have all spoken out against the move, fearing it is too soon to reopening classes – particularly in the North East where figures indicate the rate of infection is at its highest, with fears they have not yet reached their peak.

In their letter to the PM, the senior councillors say: “We write to express our grave concerns that our schools have been asked to prepare to begin to open for more children from 1 June.

“Whilst we note your previous advice has been that the Government will be driven by the science, data and public health information, with the next Government update due on 28 May, we cannot see how your Government can allow the ongoing work by schools and their governing bodies to continue when you must accept that the evidence remains that your Government’s own five tests are not met.

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“Despite widespread and significant distress and unease expressed nationally over recent days it seems that your Government is continuing with its plans to start the wider expansion of school opening from 1 June, a little over one week away.”

The add: “Whilst receiving your Downing Street briefings in London, which has a R rate of 0.4 — the lowest in the country, you may well assume that things are improving. However, we must stress that this is not the case for the North East.

“Currently South Tyneside has the third highest number of infections per 100,000 people nationally, just behind our neighbouring authorities of Sunderland and Gateshead. By highlighting our PHE figures to you, we ask that you recognise and reflect this when considering the science and deciding to embark on the second stage of your adjustments.”

The senior councillors write that the council’s ‘Family of Schools’ workforce, including Governors, teaching staff, cooks and many others are “working incredibly hard, supporting and providing for the children of key workers and vulnerable children who are still attending schools, in rapidly growing numbers”

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The letter goes on: “Our view is that adding to these numbers now with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, creates a real risk of infection rates rising considerably.

“We are aware that the responsibility for the risk assessment on the wider opening of schools – and the ultimate decision to expand opening – is the responsibility of Governing Bodies and Head Teachers or Principals and Academies Trusts, as appropriate.

“However, as part of our ongoing support, we are providing guidance, information and resources to support our Schools at this challenging time.”

Councillors Malcolm and Smith said they do not believe that the guidance provided so far by the Department of Education has been “robust, clear or comprehensive” and does not “instill confidence that the health and safety risks to our children, our staff and the wider South Tyneside community are being considered appropriately”.

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South Tyneside Council is not alone in expressing its concerns over reopening schools.

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