Teaching union criticises Leeds City Council

The regional head of a teaching union has criticised Leeds City Council, saying it should have taken “more of a lead” on when the city’s schools should reopen.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 10:43 am
Coun Jonathan Pryor. Picture Tony Johnson.

It follows an announcement from the council that individual school headteachers should decide when and how to reintroduce pupils to the classroom, due to varying abilities of schools to social distance.

In a speech earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said schools would be encouraged to gradually readmit pupils for certain year groups from June 1 at the earliest.

But the secretary of the Leeds branch of the National Education Union, Patrick Murphy, claimed that the council should not have left the decision up to headteachers, adding that September 1 was a far more realistic target.

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He said: “We don’t think the evidence says it will be safe to reopen from June 1, we have a number of tests that have not been met. We want schools to reopen as soon as possible, but it has to be at a time where it is safe.

“I don’t think it’s sensible approach – ]the council] should have given a lead to their schools. They should have taken a cue from other councils who did this.

“Schools are being asked to assess the risks before they reopen – but Leeds City Council has got to do more than they did.

“I would say a sensible approach is to target September 1 as a new starting date. but use the time in between to get the more vulnerable children into schools.”

Earlier this month, the government declared Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils may return to school from June 1 at the earliest, along with the children of key workers and vulnerable people, who had already been attending school.

Leeds City Council’s portfolio holder for learning Coun Jonathan Pryor said earlier this week that any reintroduction of lessons to primary school children should be done in a way that ‘minimises’ the risk of Covid-19 infection to staff, pupils and parents.

He added there would be no one-size-fits-all attitude to schools reopening, and that each school should be allowed to reintroduce pupils at its own pace.

Speaking at a meeting on Wednesday, Coun Pryor said: “We have one primary school where every classroom can be accessed from outside individually, compared to another primary school where there is a singular door and the school is on a main road, with quite a narrow pavement, meaning social distancing is impossible.”

“It is reasons like that means government advice, which is just one blanket message to schools, without consulting teachers and headteachers, just isn’t practical.”