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Black Country and Staffordshire schools prepare for socially distanced reopening

By Dayna Farrington | Education | Published:

Children returning to school next month will have no problem maintaining social distancing rules, an MP has said.

Andrew Clewer, Landwood Primary School headteacher, measures out desks in a classroom as the school prepares to reopen after half term

Schools in the Black Country and Staffordshire are set to reopen from June 1 for pupils in reception and years one and six, under Government plans to ease coronavirus lockdown measures.

But the plans have been opposed by trade unions and some Labour councillors, who have urged local authorities not to reopen schools over safety fears.

A petition against the opening of schools in Wolverhampton has already been signed by more than 1,700 people.

Labour councillors in Stafford, Walsall and Dudley have all raised concerns over the reopening of schools – deeming it too early.

The Prime Minister is sticking to his date for schools opening but acknowledged “it may not be possible” for all of them to do so by June 1.

Speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday, Boris Johnson said, despite resistance from many councils, the Government planned to push ahead with the opening date.

“We said we would begin with early years’ settings and reception, year one, and year six in primary schools,” he said.

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Lichfield’s Conservative MP Michael Fabricant says he is convinced youngsters can return to school safely next month – with low pupil numbers meaning social distancing measures can be adhered to.

"He said social distancing was crucial for safety and that it would largely “depend on the layout of the school”.

He added: “Clearly, this will be easier in schools with spacious modern classrooms than in some old, Victorian built schools. But with years two, three, four, and five not being asked to return yet – around half of each school’s students – this will help in ensuring a two metre separation can be maintained.”

Mr Fabricant has backed Staffordshire County Council’s plans over the reopening of schools. The authority says it anticipates that in line with Government guidelines, the “majority of schools will be open in some way” from June 1, with the decision about how and when they open left up to individual schools.

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But Labour councillors in Stafford have urged the authority to follow trade union advice to keep schools closed until “it is demonstrably safe” for them to reopen.

In a letter to Councillor Philip Atkins, leader of Staffordshire County Council, the Stafford Borough Council Labour group said: “Returning to school is vital for young people, especially for those of our students who are less advantaged. It is not, however, acceptable to sacrifice the welfare of young people, educators, their friends and families, and the wider community.

“Everyone looks forward to when all schools can be safely reopened. However, until then, the safety of our young people and the wider community should be paramount.”

Dudley Councillor Sue Ridney, who is shadow cabinet member for children and young people, has said the authority’s approach to children’s safety was “irresponsible” and “haphazard”. Earlier this week, Dudley Council said they were aiming to reopen schools to the selected years after half term, in line with the schools’ own risk assessments and recovery plans.

While in a statement the leader and deputy leader of Walsall Labour Group, Councillors Aftab Nawaz and Khizar Hussain, said it was vital “we do not put our children in danger of contracting this virus” and that contact made at schools can and will spread throughout a whole community.

A spokesman for Walsall Council said they were working with their schools on a phased reopening from June 1 – with schools in the borough in the process of completing risk assessments to identify how many children they can accommodate in line with Government guidance.

The Labour group leaders said: "We wish to have children in Walsall back at school as soon as possible but only when it is safe to do so. At this moment in time we are not convinced that schools are safe for our children to return.

"The school environment needs to be safe for the children, teachers, school staff and parents."

Schools in Walsall have already begun to put measures in place. Landywood Primary School, in Great Wyrley, is getting ready to open on June 1. Headteacher Andrew Clewer told the Express & Star earlier this week there were "high levels of anxiety" amongst staff and parents – but that student safety would always come first.

Dayna Farrington

By Dayna Farrington
Senior reporter based at Wolverhampton

Reporter for the Express & Star based at Wolverhampton.

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