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Ignore ‘failed’ PM and open when safe, schools and councils urged

TEACHERS have called on schools to ignore the “failed” Prime Minister and only reopen when they are sure it is safe.

The call today from National Education Union joint general secretary Mary Bousted came after a weekend in which embattled PM Boris Johnson — on the ropes over the lockdown breach by his top adviser Dominic Cummings — insisted that he would begin a wider reopening of schools on June 1 despite fears over safety.

Councils, schools and unions have urged the government to follow scientific advice and delay school openings that could revive the spread of the coronavirus.

Ms Bousted tweeted: “School leaders should simply ignore Boris Johnson, who has failed as a PM. 

“Using school opening as a distraction from the Dominic Cummings disaster is a cynical ploy. 

“Schools should open only when it is safe to do so. Keep your nerve and do the right thing.” 

Her comments were retweeted by NEU national executive member Gawain Little, who chairs the union’s international committee.

“The international evidence is clear. Johnson’s proposed model for wider school opening is out of step with the rest of the world and will place families and communities in danger.

“Most schools, academy trusts and local authorities are in discussions with the union about models and dates for wider opening which will keep children, schools and communities safe. Those who are not should ignore the PM and initiate those discussions now.”

In Mr Johnson’s televised address, in which he defended top adviser Mr Cummings over breaking lockdown rules, the PM accepted that it would “not be possible” for all primary schools to open in one week’s time. 

But he added that the government would “continue to support and work with the sector to ensure that any schools experiencing difficulties are able to open more widely as soon as possible.” 

Schools have been closed since March 23 for most pupils except vulnerable children and those of key workers. 

Responding to the announcement, NASUWT general secretary Patrick Roach said: “The government has yet to reassure parents and teachers that opening schools from June 1 will be safe and now appears to accept that many schools will not be able to reopen on that date.”

Mr Roach said the PM’s determination to press ahead with the plans was “seriously at odds” with scientific evidence on the impact of schools reopening as well as concerns expressed by schools, teachers and parents. 

Following pressure from unions, the government last week published 12 papers submitted to the Sage committee of scientific advisers on the effect of coronavirus on children. 

On Friday new modelling by a group of senior scientific advisers suggested that the risk to children would be halved if ministers delayed returning to school by two weeks.

The alternative “Independent Sage” committee, chaired by former chief scientific adviser David King, said that a later date would allow more time for an effective “test, trace and isolate” programme to be put in place. 

The government has decided to steam ahead with the much criticised start date despite a growing rebellion by more than 20 local authorities.

As of last week 27 councils, including some Tory-run ones, have said they will not ask schools to open their doors to more pupils on June 1. 

Of those, seven have explicitly advised school heads not to reopen on that date. They comprise Liverpool City Council, Bury, Calderdale, Hartlepool, Redbridge, Sefton and Stockport. 

Announcing Liverpool’s decision, director of children’s services Steve Reddy said that there was “no doubt in my mind that we simply cannot reopen schools in line with the suggested timetable outlined by the government.”

Today the council said its position on the matter had not changed. “The authority continues to believe that health and safety is the paramount concern and that schools should not reopen until … the appropriate measures have been put in place to protect children and staff and to prevent further spread of the virus,” a spokesperson said. 

The other 20 councils said that they will back head teachers’ decisions to open later but have fallen short of advising them to do so.

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