MORE than 100 Bradford schools began ‘phased reopenings’ yesterday but one headteacher is standing firm and will not reopen to more pupils for at least a few weeks, claiming the government’s approach is too generalised and focused on London.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined that primary schools should reopen in a limited way to pupils in nursery, reception, year one and year six from Monday, June 1.

The decision polarised schools right across the country, including in Bradford.

Only a handful of schools in the district reopened to more students last week.

Bradford Council told the T&A that it backed the decision of most headteachers who were aiming for a restart date of Monday, June 8.

Councillor Imran Khan, Bradford Council’s portfolio holder for education, added that some may even need an extra week to be ready.

Grove House Primary School, in Swain House, and Crossley Hall Primary School, in Thornton Road, were two of the schools to extend their opening on Monday, June 1.

They welcomed students in nursery, reception, year one and year six back, as well as continuing to provide support for key worker and vulnerable children.

Both are part of the Pennine Academies Yorkshire Trust and two of its other Bradford schools followed suit yesterday (Farnham Primary School, in Little Horton and Hollingwood Primary School, in Great Horton).

CEO of the Trust, Michael Thorp explained why they had opted for a staggered approach to their reopenings.

He said: "Pennine Academies felt that, as the new systems following DfE guidance would be untried and untested, we would be better to start with a manageable cap to 'bubble sizes' and then build numbers when we felt systems were robust, safe and fit for purpose.

"We started off with five pupils per bubble but we will now begin to increase this number."

Laycock Primary School, in Keighley, which also comes under the Pennine Academies Yorkshire banner, will reopen in the same way as the other four schools next week.

Mr Thorp said: "We have been fortunate that the places we have offered have not been out-stripped by parental demands.

"We have had to work hard to reassure staff, parents and children, who are understandably nervous, to send children back.

"As we re-build confidence in the safety of schools we expect these numbers to rise steadily.

"We currently have the capacity to offer more places, as and when they are needed."

But, not everyone has shared the CEO's optimism.

Peel Park Primary School, in Undercliffe, continues to provide care for key worker and vulnerable children but will not open for more pupils for at least the next few weeks.

Headteacher, Lloyd Mason-Edwards, explains this is because the reproduction rate (R-rate) is too high in Bradford still and many of Peel Park's pupils come from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic), multi-generational households.

Research by University College London (UCL) scientists in early May suggested BAME groups are two to three times more likely to die from coronavirus.

Public Health England followed this up with a study and revealed last week that BAME individuals do have a much higher risk of death than white people, as do those from poorer backgrounds, men and anyone who is obese or suffering from diabetes.

Mr Mason-Edwards said: "We believe that the Government is not looking closely enough at other areas and individual towns or areas of the UK and just basing most of their decision's on London.

"This is not good enough for our school community and families.

"Myself and the C of G meet every Friday (virtually) to review this decision.

"We have full support from our parents/carers."

His viewpoint is one which is supported by Bradford-district leader of the National Education Union, Ian Murch.

He said at a virtual meeting of Keighley Trades Union Council (TUC) that pupils’ return to school in the district is “chaotic, confusing and dangerous” and the government was delegating responsibility to individual headteachers by ignoring scientific evidence.

The T&A also directly interviewed Mr Murch on Monday afternoon.

He claims that not many primary schools actually reopened today, despite the details on Bradford Council's website.

He said: "We do have two concerns, which is the R-rate seems to be going up and the other is, we're not confident that the test, track and isolate system is properly up and running yet.

"Those are the two key things that make sure that you're safe.

"We know there was pressure from the government to start last week but most didn't.

"There aren't very many open to children today (Monday, June 8), they will mostly be later in the week.

"We still think it's best to be cautious - we know there are quite regular cases among staff and pupils, even with the opening rates at the moment."

Keighley TUC president, Steve Davison, also revealed at the virtual meeting that parents are worried.

He said: “The Government is carrying out a social experiment with our children by reverting back to its discredited ‘herd immunity’ strategy.

“Most parents want to do best by their children, but are worried by all the conflicting advice and opinions.

“Unfortunately Bradford Council is sat on the fence, instead of giving a clear instruction to schools that with the virus still present in the district and the added risk of many children living in multi-generational households, it’s still not safe.”

Mr Murch told the T&A that there seems to be a rush to get children back before the summer term, when the government should have just waited.

He said: "There's no point in trying to behave as though we can get back to normal before summer.

"That was the government's original plan for primaries.

"The number of kids will have to be smaller and even the government's proposed 15 in a classroom, it's too many for classrooms if they're going to social distance.

"We can't go back to normal before summer.

"It does all depend on the R rate being low enough and being confident if you get cases, you can get checked out quickly."