Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Mail Online: May 15, 2020 – Liverpool today became the first English city to refuse to return children to school next month as the Government faced a growing row over its plan to restart lessons.

The Merseyside port’s council confirmed that from June 1 only the children of key workers and those deemed vulnerable would be allowed to attend – as they are now.

The local authority rejected ministers plans to restart lessons for some primary age groups before the summer.

The Government is facing stiff opposition from teachers unions and opposition politicians who oppose the reopening on safety grounds.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the Government’s plans at the daily press conference this evening, saying; “I wouldn’t support a proposal to start to reopen schools unless it was safe to do so – and it is safe to do so.”

Union leaders met the Government’s scientific advisers this afternoon, but speaking afterwards Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it left many of their questions unanswered.

Earlier this week Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson branded the Government plan “reckless” and this afternoon Steve Reddy, the city’s director of children and young people’s services, said he was writing to all parents to tell them not to expect schools to reopen for everyone on June 1.

In the letter Mr Reddy said: “Our guiding principle is that schools can only reopen to other pupils when it is safe to do so and not a moment before.

“Only once we can be sure that schools are safe for both children and staff will they be able to open to more children. The safety of your child, and of our staff, is our top priority.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured today)

Teachers do not have to wear face coverings unless providing care for a child who has come into school with symptoms, Downing Street has said.

The idea of teachers being supplied with masks as a way to calm coronavirus transmission fears was rejected this morning.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “Our guidance on face coverings is clear, they are for enclosed public spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet such as crowded shops or public transport.

“Schools do not fall into that category.

“It is rare for a teacher to have to wear PPE, they should only be worn if providing close-contact care for a child with symptoms,” he said.

He added: “Any child with symptoms shouldn’t be going into school in the first place.

“The size and layout of the school building, and the availability of staff, will affect their assessments. It will be the case that the schools will do it differently. Your child’s headteacher will be in touch with you in due course.”

However at the press conference tonight NHS England’s medical director of primary care said many vulnerable children would be better off at school.

London GP Dr Nikki Kanani said that ‘risk is relative’, adding: ‘Some of our children who are more vulnerable need more support, need to be back in school to get the benefit of both the social environment but also the physical space as well.

“It is very important that we carefully get our children back to school because actually that is what is going to be good for them in the long run.”

This morning Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford told Good Morning Britain ‘new cohorts’ will not be brought into schools on June 1, although some children would return before the summer.

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government would be speaking to parents and staff so they knew everything had been done to make the school environment safe and give them “confidence to return”.

“We’d like to take a bit longer to do that, we think it will pay off in the end and that’s the nature of the way that we would do things in Wales,” Mr Drakeford said.

But academy schools were told to ‘start planning to reopen’ in June. Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, which represents the semi-autonomous state schools stressed that they needed to ‘rebuild parental confidence’.

But she said that the June 1 date to restart some primary school classes was just the beginning and not an ‘absolute deadline’.

She told The Telegraph: “‘My message to headteachers is that we should start planning to reopen.

“he planning needs to take a risk based approach, we need to make a full assessment of the risks which relate to site capacity and number of staff.

“We need to be building parental confidence as far as possible with families. Communication with staff, with parents and with communities is crucial.”