The Prime Minister announced on TV on May 10 that schools in England should begin a phased return from June 1.

This took many by surprise and the Government’s inadequate guidance published afterwards left many questions unanswered, showing the decision had not been properly thought through.

So it is inevitable that parents and teachers remain unconvinced that schools should welcome more pupils after half term. And it’s clear from my discussions with local headteachers that they are trying to plan ahead but are still uncertain about what they are being asked to do.

Of course, schools have been open throughout the lockdown period for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. And schools staff have done a good job in this and in reaching pupils at home throughout the crisis.

Before any wider opening, the Government must work with trade unions and others to agree on safety measures. I would like to see everyone working together to set out an agreed plan, as this would be the way to give the public and parents confidence that the safety of pupils, their families and staff is being properly protected with any staged return to school.

As well as a detailed safety plan, the Government should publish the scientific evidence their May 10 announcement was based on and they should get in place much more of the promised system to test, trace and isolate before schools reopen.

I’ve been making these arguments to Government as part of Labour’s shadow cabinet and to the constituents and trade union officers who’ve discussed this with me.

We all want to see children get back into classrooms but only when we can be confident it’s sensible and safe to do so.

Rotherham MBC statement – 19 May

Most Rotherham schools have remained opened during the national coronavirus pandemic response, offering invaluable support by providing school places for more than 800 vulnerable children and children of key workers from Rotherham on a daily basis.

The Government announced last week that, subject to continuing progress in reducing the rate of coronavirus infections and other key tests being met, from 1st June:

  • nurseries and other early year providers, including childminders, will begin welcoming back all children
  • primary schools to welcome back children in nursery (where they have them), reception, year 1 and year 6
  • secondary schools, sixth form, and further education colleges to begin some face to face support with year 10 and 12 pupils (it is not expected these pupils will return on a full-time basis at this stage)
  • all schools and childcare providers to continue to offer places to the priority groups – vulnerable children and children of critical workers – they have been supporting since the end of March
  • special schools, special post-16 institutions and hospital schools to work towards a phased return of more children and young people without a focus on specific year groups and informed by risk assessments
  • Rotherham schools are making their own decisions, based on their circumstances, about how they best respond to these requirements, and each school will be contacting affected parents in due course.

The wellbeing of pupils, teachers and their families is everyone’s priority, and the Council is working in partnership with all Rotherham schools to look at how we can support them to ensure this.

Each school has completed its own risk assessment to evaluate how many children in different years groups they can safely open to. This will vary for every school and is dependent on their size and layout to enable social distancing, any potential travel and transport challenges, the number of vulnerable children and children of critical workers they are already catering for and the number of staff they have available who are fit and well or aren’t shielding.

No action will be taken against any parent who decides that their child should not return to school at this time during the phased re-opening.

The Council is also helping to co-ordinate and prepare support services such as school meals, cleaning and transport to schools across the borough.

Barnsley MBC statement – 18 May

Regular conversations have been taking place regarding how schools prepare for and safely extend their current offer, via the Barnsley Schools Alliance and with regional partners.

Schools have been exploring the implications of the Government’s guidance and are beginning to talk individually to parents and carers – they will each have their own plans as it will all depend on school size and capacity.

Most schools are seeking to extend their offer on 1 June for the stipulated age groups and vulnerable children/those of key workers. A small number of schools take a two-week break at half term and in these cases, they will welcome pupils at the earliest opportunity on 8 June.

We are in line with partners across region in terms of issues around some of the challenges and complexities around children returning to schools.

There is still a lot of work ahead to manage this, but the most important issue is how this is going to feel for children and families. We’re very sensitive to this issue and want any return to school to be a positive experience, which means a focus on managing children’s resilience and wellbeing.

We will continue to support schools with their plans for a safe phased return for teachers and pupils.