Safety first and "grave concerns" - North East councils give their positions on schools reopening at the start of June

Councils across the North East have stated their position on schools reopening on 1 June.

The Prime Minister has set out proposals for reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils from primary schools across England to go back to school on the first day of next month.

Boris Johnson has been keen to get children back into school before the end of the academic year but has faced significant pushback from teaching unions and local councils, including some in the North East, who say it is too soon.

On Friday, South Tyneside Council's leader and lead member for children's services have written to the PM with "grave concerns" over plans to reopen schools to more children from 1 June.

They say they believe it will create "a real risk of infection rates rising considerably".

Meanwhile, Newcastle City Council say 8 June is "likely" for some schools and children.

In a letter to parents the council said: "Whilst schools have been asked to plan for more children coming back on 1 June... we do not expect this will be possible for Newcastle schools."

We have contacted all of the councils in the North East about the reopening of schools and collated the responses we've received below:

North Tyneside Council:

Jacqui Old, Head of Children’s and Adult Services, North Tyneside Council, said: “We are working with Headteachers in North Tyneside to prepare for a safe reopening of schools to some year groups.

“Staff and pupil safety is the primary concern. Any reopening of schools will be planned and phased to ensure that no one is put at risk...We will continue to monitor the situation nationally and regionally so we can plan accordingly for appropriate action.”

Sunderland City Council:

Council leader Graeme Miller says there is “no rush to open schools further”

“The health of children, parents and school staff must be our first and only priority”.

He added that parents should not feel obliged to send their children back to school.

Middlesbrough Council:

Say they can only act in a support/advisory role – it’s a decision for schools to make according to their own circumstances.

The town's Mayor Andy Preston said getting children back to school safely is Middlesbrough’s number one priority.

He added that schools would only reopen when all possible measures are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of pupils, staff and the wider community.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council:

The Council say they are working closely with each school to ensure the safe return of more children.

Councillor Alison Barnes, Cabinet Member for Children said:

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children...We can reassure parents that schools will only open for additional children when head teachers and governing bodies are sure that the necessary arrangements can be implemented."

Northumberland County Council:

Cath McEvoy-Carr, Executive Director of Adults and Children's Services, said: “Keeping pupils and staff safe in schools is our top priority...

Cllr Wayne Daley, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for Children's Services at Northumberland County Council added: “We will be working closely with schools in the planning of any targeted reopening and will do everything we can to support children and their families."

Newcastle City Council:

In a letter issued to parents on Friday the council said 8 June is a more realistic date for return:

"Whilst schools have been asked to plan for more children coming back on 1 June, we must be clear with you that we do not expect this will be possible for Newcastle schools. This is because our first priority is to ensure that schools have the time to plan and get organised in such a way that children and staff are as safe as they can be when they come back to school. It is likely that some schools will be ready to welcome some groups of children from Monday 8 June."

South Tyneside Council:

South Tyneside Council's leader Cllr Iain Malcolm, Leader of South Tyneside Council and Cllr Moira Smith, lead member for children's services have written a letter to Boris Johnson.

In it they express "grave concerns" over plans to reopen schools to more children from 1 June. They say they believe it will create "a real risk of infection rates rising considerably".

Durham County Council:

Durham County Council has acknowledged that the circumstances for each school are different, and has advised schools that they should only start a phased reopening when they feel it is safe to do so.

Commenting on the phased return, Cllr Olwyn Gunn, Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said:

“There is no simple answer to the phased reopening and I’m acutely aware that there is a nervousness about returning too early. This is completely understandable and whilst it will be great for all children to return to school, parents, carers and staff need reassurance regarding safety."

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council:

In a letter to parents, Stockton-on-Tees Borough council have outlined their expectation of a gradual, not fixed, return from 1st June "subject to constant monitoring".

They've stressed that all schools are different, saying:

"Some schools will be ready to admit more pupils from 1 June, and some will not be."

City of York Council:

Maxine Squire, Assistant Director for Education and Skills, City of York Council said:

“Any decision to extend the opening of schools to additional year groups has to be taken by headteachers, their governing bodies or trustees following thorough risk assessment.

"In practice this will mean that not all schools in the city will be admitting additional year groups on 1 June but will continue to be open for key workers and vulnerable children.

"Plans to open for additional year groups will be determined by the number of available staff and physical space, to ensure social distancing requirements can be met, and the safety of pupils and staff upheld."