Primary pupils across South Cheshire won’t start returning to school until June 15 at the earliest – and some will have to wait four extra weeks.
Cheshire East Council has been in talks with headteachers, unions and a parents’ forum to come up with the locally tailored reopening plan.
It is one of at least 20 authorities across England to break ranks with the Government’s proposed timetable. Ministers have been urging schools to begin welcoming back whole year groups from June 1.
The Cheshire East phased plan, which will affect thousands of pupils, will see:
- Nursery and reception children eligible to return on June 15;
- Year 1 pupils getting back to class from June 22;
- Year 6 pupils returning on June 29;
- Special school pupils encouraged to return on June 1, subject to an individual risk assessment;
- Students in Years 10 and 12 at secondary school receiving online conference calls from their teachers;
- Some college students being offered one-to-one support.
The council said the phased reopening will be dependent on individual schools having the ‘staffing capacity and space’.
By putting the start date back, teachers will have an additional fortnight to prepare classrooms and introduce new safety measures.
Councillor Kathryn Flavell, cabinet member for children and families, said: “Firstly, I want to extend my sincere thanks to our education team at Cheshire East Council, to teaching staff and teaching unions, for the professional manner and dedication they have shown in achieving an agreed phased return in what has become the biggest disruption to education since the war.
“I also want to emphasise that, where parents do not feel comfortable about allowing their child to attend school, the council will not compel them to do so. There will be no fines issued while this initial reintroduction of school life continues.
“However, we hope that parents will feel reassured by the safety measures being taken and agree that it is in the best interests of our children that they attend school and benefit from learning alongside their peers.”
But the two neighbouring authorities are offering support and advice to enable schools to begin welcoming back pupils in priority year groups on June 1.
The collaborative approach in South Cheshire contrasts starkly with the situation nationally, where Government ministers and teaching unions have been at loggerheads over when it’s safe for pupils to return.
Mark Palethorpe, executive director of people and director of children services at Cheshire East Council, said the authority would ‘continue to monitor this very challenging transition towards wider full-time teaching and learning’.
He added: “We will make any necessary changes as we make progress. We will listen to all concerns and act accordingly.
“Covid-19 has brought with it stress, uncertainty and anxiety for many. We need to make sure that any way forward is safe for everyone within our schools and we will be delivering a supply of personal protective equipment to all schools and colleges prior to them opening.”