Schools should not reopen until the government can prove that pupils and staff will be safe, Salford and Eccles MP Rebecca Long-Bailey has said, joining union calls for a delay in the planned reopening of schools on Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that he intended to open primary schools for pupils in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on June 1.
But MP Long-Bailey - who also serves as Labour’s shadow education minister - said she wanted more assurances that pupils, staff and their families would be safe, and that the coronavirus was contained, before a wider re-opening.
She told a Salford Unison meeting last night: “I don’t think there’s any parent or member of school staff who doesn’t want their children to return to school for their emotional wellbeing and academic support they need. But it’s got to be done when it’s safe to do so. At the moment they’re not reassured.”
MP Long-Bailey also argued that there has not been enough evidence to show that loosening the restrictions hadn’t led to a spike in infection rates.
And she queried how feasible it would be for teachers to enforce social distancing among five year olds.
“Anyone who thinks you can socially distance a group of reception children has gone a bit doolally. It just isn’t possible, even with the best teacher in the world,” she said.
Last night’s meeting followed a rally by Salford Unison yesterday morning outside Salford council over the schools’ reopening.
Steve North, of Unison, said: “School workers have worked hard to keep schools open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers, and they will continue to do so. However, our members are telling us loudly that it is not safe to extend opening beyond these groups on 1st June.
“There are huge concerns about the ability for very young children to socially distance and there is not enough yet known about the impact of the virus on children and how well they are able to spread it to other family members. This is reinforced by the lack of progress on testing for those who don’t display symptoms and significant concerns about the disproportionate impact on those from black and other ethnic minority communities. We call upon Salford City Council to take the same approach as Bury Council and put safety first.”
He told yesterday’s meeting that a recent survey of Unison members showed that 98 percent of those who responded said the 1 June return date was not led by safety.
He argued that the phased return to school should prioritise vulnerable children rather than particular year groups, while Diane Ogg, from Salford city Unison, added that many youngsters would find the new rules in school disconcerting.
She said: “Young children are to be placed in bubbles - not understanding why they can't run over to play with their friends. How can’t the government see the psychological effect of that?
"‘You can’t go and see you best friend Frankie, because he’s in another bubble’.
"Who will be supervising this creation? Can you imagine the intense pressure they will be under?”
Salford council has said that national timescales ‘may not be followed’.
Deputy City Mayor Councillor John Merry said: “We share the concerns expressed by the education unions and have been working closely with them and our head teachers to find a safe way forward.
“Our schools have remained open to support vulnerable children and families of key workers and the challenge now is to carefully increase the number of children they can allow in school.
“It is up to each individual head teacher, with the full support of the local authority, to assess the lay out and operation of their school and decide what level of extra pupils they can take and when. Our key priority is safety and we have already said that means the national timescale may not be followed.”
Prime Minister Johnson confirmed on Sunday that the plans were 'conditional' on the basis that the rate of coronavirus transmission remained low.