BRADFORD MP Naz Shah is asking headteachers whether they think they can accept more pupils safely as Calderdale Council became the latest authority to ask schools not to open their doors to extra classes on June 1.

Fellow city MP Imran Hussain called on Bradford Council at the weekend to follow Liverpool Council’s decision not to extend schooling on the Prime Minister’s suggested date.

And teaching unions have backed him, saying that their members have concerns over the safety of children and staff.

Initially the Government is recommending the return of nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children to primary schools and Year 10 and Year 12 students to their school or college.

Schools across the district are urgently drawing up “individual risk assessments” after carrying out surveys so the views of parents can be taken into account.

On Monday, Bradford Council told the T&A it was working closely with schools to establish exactly what support is needed for them to “reopen safely”.

Ms Shah (Lab, Bradford West) said: “Recent Public Health England guidance tells us that the effective reproduction number of Covid-19 is currently highest in Yorkshire and the North East. We therefore cannot afford to take any risks, as this crisis is far from over.

“We must be absolutely sure that it is safe for our children to return to school. As it stands, this is not the case.

“The re-opening of schools is an important step to ensure that pupils can return to receiving education, yet how each school is able to implement this return in a safe way is dependent on their individual circumstances.

“I have today written out to all primary school headteachers across Bradford West, seeking their input and views on this matter.

“I will fully support the decisions these schools make and advocate on their behalf, as the health and wellbeing of pupils, teachers and all those connected to schools will always be a top priority.”

Calderdale Council announced that it is advising local schools not to open more widely until they can be confident that children and teaching staff are able to return to classrooms safely.

Leader Tim Swift said the council has major concerns that some of the Government’s five tests, which should guide any decision to re-open, are not being met within Calderdale.

Accordingly it says schools, which along with Calderdale College have been open for children of key workers and vulnerable children to attend, should not be open more widely until all the tests can be met.

Members of the Green Party in Bradford want schools to return, but believe this should only be done when it is safe to do so and are calling on Bradford Council to follow the lead of other local authorities which have pledged to only open schools when infection rates have dropped to safer levels.

Councillor Kevin Warnes (Green, Shipley) said: “Bradford Council is absolutely right to put the safety of families, school staff and the wider community first. Despite what the government is telling us, we are still in a critical stage of keeping this pandemic under control.

“Throughout the current crisis, the government has not worked closely enough with local authorities in relation to this pandemic and it’s it seems that they have decided to put the economy in London and the South East ahead of people’s lives here in Bradford and Yorkshire.

“Yes we need to reopen schools to ensure our children get the education they deserve – but only when it is safe to do so. We should be following the example set by Liverpool and Hartlepool Councils who have flat out refused to open schools until it is safe.”

The Liberal Democrat and Independent Group Education spokesperson, Councillor David Ward, feels people seem to forget the fact that many schools have actually not closed at all during the lockdown and says that has been accepted as a “good thing”, so we should focus on how many more could be going to school safely now.

He feels the issue needs to be opened for discussion, rather than it being about two opposite ends of a spectrum. He said: “The current debate about when and how schools should ‘re-open’ has already developed entrenched positions.

“It started from a Government-led position of expecting the re-opening of schools for certain groups from June 1.

“A growing opposition of ‘no to that’ has developed with trades unions and some local authorities leading the charge.

“The two camps are sat facing each other and there seems to be no basis for discussion.

“A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner suggests that children deserve better.”

Children of key workers and vulnerable students have still been attending schools since they were forced to close to the majority of pupils and staff in March.

Mr Ward added: “All those who now claim to be deeply concerned about more children attending school, often with dire predictions of the subsequent catastrophe that will ensue, have been silent so far on the accepted principle that at least some children should be going to school.

“The question now should be, how many more could be going to school safely?

“The question of ‘safety’ is a difficult one because we have never been here before and the scientific and epidemiological evidence is weak and disputed.

“What is not weak and disputed is the evidence that the continuing absence from a school, as a place visited every day and the continuing absence from education as a creator of opportunity, is deeply damaging – especially to those from disadvantaged families.

“A far more important debate than whether or not certain age groups should return to school could be taking place on how schools, and indeed other empty public buildings such as youth centres and libraries could be planning in June, throughout the summer and beyond if need be, to support disadvantaged children until normal schooling recommences.”

Children from deprived backgrounds, vulnerable children and those with Education Health and Care Assessments and Plans (EHCPs) should be given priority come June 1, according to Mr Ward.

He added: “Waiting for the perfect time to ‘re-open’ schools will mean a long wait and some children do not have that time because they have already suffered from school closures and will continue to do so as long as they are missing school.

“It is not about re-opening schools – many are already open – but about the safe phased return to normal, planning for that should begin today and be available for scrutiny so we can all be assured about the safety of children and staff.”

Ian Murch, Bradford president of the National Education Union, said that the NEU had contacted the heads of schools and academy trusts asking them about their situation.

He said: “We have had many replies saying that the starting date and the general approach of the Government do not pay enough regard to the safety of our communities.”

The NASUWT has called on the Secretary of State for Education to provide the evidence and information to justify the decision to start to reopen schools from June 1 and has warned that teachers remain far from unconvinced that reopening can be safely or practicably achieved by this date.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, union general secretary Dr Patrick Roach underlined its continued commitment to working with ministers over the plans for schools, but called for further urgent work by the Government to win the trust and confidence of the profession in meeting its aim of starting to reopen schools from June 1.

Dr Roach called for the Government to provide the scientific evidence and modelling it has relied on in making its decision over school reopening, to work with the NASUWT to strengthen the guidance for schools and to confirm the actions it will take to monitor and review schools’ compliance on effective safety measures for staff and pupils.

The lack of confidence and the high level of concern of teachers about the Government’s plans for schools have been highlighted by a snapshot survey undertaken by the NASUWT to which nearly 29,000 responses were received in four days from members.

The survey found that:

• 95% of teachers expressed concern and anxiety about the Government’s plans for the wider reopening of schools;

• 93% of teachers find the Government’s plans for 1 June reopening confusing;

• 92% of teachers did not feel reassured by the Government’s announcements that it will be safe for more pupils to return to school/college from 1st June;

• 85% of teachers do not think it will be safe to return on 1 June;

• 92% of teachers believe that social distancing will not be possible to achieve or will present a major issue in schools;

• 91% of teachers are not confident about the proposed measures to protect their health or the health of children.