A row has exploded between ministers, councils, teachers and unions over when and how to re-open schools – with headteachers threatened with legal action.
Leaders of local authorities and unions chiefs have accused ministers of going too fast on plans to reopen schools and want more local control over their return.
Patrick Roach, general secretary of union NASUWT, yesterday said it would take legal action against head teachers if schools re-opened without proper protections for staff, in a letter seen by The Guardian.
But in an extraordinary turn, former Education Secretary David Blunkett has accused the unions of “working against the interests of children”.
And Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and ex-head of Wellington College, said: “Teachers want to and need to be back in schools.
“As long as the scientists say they can, it is utterly wrong for unions to try to block and discourage teachers.”
While current Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has urged the unions to do their “duty” and halt any opposition to getting children back behind their desks despite the pandemic.
Writing for the Daily Mail, he said returning kids to school is “in the interests of their welfare and education”.
However, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said schools should be allowed to make their own decisions about reopening, especially in areas where there is a higher proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic residents.
Councillor Judith Blake, chairwoman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said parents were “anxious” about sending their children back to school and said more needed to be done to reassure families.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when announcing his plans for taking England out of lockdown, said Reception, Y1 and Y6 pupils could go back as soon as next month.
Earlier this week, Mr Williamson said medical and scientific advice was “saying it’s the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner”.
But the LGA is calling for some schools, in consultation with councils, to be given greater flexibility locally over reopening as they argue that some communities are at higher risk.
It comes after an analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested that black men and women are more than four times more likely to die a coronavirus-related death than white people.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said a “wider opening of schools, too early, poses a lot of unanswered questions about the risks in poor communities”.
Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio Four’s Today: “It is about how can we work together to make it work as safely – we can’t 100 per cent – as safely as possible.
“Anyone who works against that in my view is working against the interests of children.”