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Coronavirus: Unions say Sandwell schools are not safe and should close

By George Makin | Sandwell | News | Published:

Unions have called on Sandwell Council to order all of its primary schools to shut after it emerged more than a third are yet to reopen to pupils.

In a joint statement to all councillors, representatives of teaching and non-teaching staff welcomed the decision by 34 schools to delay reopening, adding the return was not safe for pupils, their families or employees.

Sandwell’s emergency committee said the decision on whether schools accepted children back on Monday June 1 was one for governing bodies.

But quoting concerns about the spread of Covid-19 before an effective tracing and tracking system was in place, the unions accused the council of not listening to their fears and putting the responsibility onto schools.

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Their statement said: "We are very disappointed that our concerns have been ignored and that Sandwell have left the decision to individual headteachers.

"We have been pleased that some Sandwell schools and academies have been sensible and have postponed the decision until it is safe to do so.”

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The unions are now asking Sandwell to follow the lead of Liverpool and Sunderland councils, which oppose reopening at this time.

In a direct plea to councillors they added: "As we have said throughout this crisis, we will welcome the opportunity to discuss schools extending their provision at a time when the situation improves, and risk assessments demonstrate that the situation in schools is safe. We know that is not currently the case.

Defended

"We are therefore contacting you again to ask you to review the situation and direct our schools to stay closed to all but our key worker and vulnerable children until things are much safer and the key tests are properly met."

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Sandwell has confirmed the unions’ claims that 61 of Sandwell’s 95 primary schools have accepted back pupils to date, and council leaders defended the reopenings, saying individual schools were best placed to decide.

Councillor Joyce Underhill, cabinet member for best start in life, said: "We have stressed to the National Education Union that the safety and welfare of children and of school staff has been the focus of our discussions with schools regarding any extended opening beyond their current arrangements for vulnerable children and key workers.

"The council was clear at its emergency committee meeting last week that only schools are able to make the decision to extend opening as they know their school, pupils and families best – they use their risk assessments to make the decisions about when, and if, to extend their opening."

Council leader Yvonne Davies added: "Following the Government’s decision to extend school opening to more children, the council has continued to work closely with schools to support them through this difficult period.

"However, individual schools are best placed to decide if they are satisfied with the conditions at their school to reopen to more children. And only parents and carers can decide to send their children back to school if they are satisfied with the arrangements to keep their children safe.

"We have empowered parents and carers to make the best decision for their individual circumstances and assured them they will not receive a fine if they choose not to send their children back to school this term."

George Makin

By George Makin

Local Democracy Reporting Service

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