A PETITION has been launched calling on Cheshire West and Chester Council not to open schools up to more pupils from next month.

The Standard reported yesterday that the authority is currently working with schools across the borough to develop plans for the possible inclusion of Early Years, Year 1 and Year 6 children from June 1.

The council says it will support schools in making their own decision on whether it is safe to begin a phased reopening, running alongside the existing arrangements where care is provided for children of keyworkers during the coronavirus pandemic.

One school that will definitely not be opening up to more children from June 1 is Woodlands Primary in Ellesmere Port, whose headteacher Victoria Carr confirmed that a decision was made by the governing body to put 'the safety of children and staff first and only open to key worker children until further notice'.

Following the council's update on its stance towards the potential phased reopening of schools in the borough, an online petition was set up urging them to follow other local authorities – such as Liverpool and Wirral councils – in refusing to open up to more pupils next month.

Helen Rutherford-Gregory, from Chester, who launched the petition 'CWAC to Refuse to open schools on 1st June', states: "We must protect our children and our teachers. Listen to the British Medical Association and the education unions.

"Cheshire West surely must follow suit. Over 80% of parents are refusing to send their children back. The council need to be with the people, not against them."

The petition has more than 50 supporters so far, with one saying: "Schools must not open until it is safe. It will not be safe in June."

Another added: "It is clearly not safe to return our children to school. If it is safe then why are private schools not opening until September?"

Cheshire West and Chester Council says 'the safety of children and young people in the borough is a priority', and its education team will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Councillor Bob Cernik, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: "I understand in these difficult times that many people feel 1 June is just too soon to expand the number of children in attendance at school.

"This is for a variety of reasons including variations in infection rates across the country; school geography/layout; safe school transport availability; the ability to maintain social distancing with youngsters; staff availability and staff logistics.

"That is why we have sent out risk assessment information to complement the work already undertaken by headteachers and governors to assist their decision on whether or not to expand the school cohort from 1 June.

"In some cases, I understand this may not be possible. I would like to assure all parents and pupils, headteachers, governing bodies, and teaching staff that your own school's individual risk assessments and national guidance will be supported by the council. Your safety and wellbeing comes before any other consideration."

Schools will communicate directly with parents, carers and other stakeholders of their decision and what the plan will be for their school.

Secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges have been asked by the Government to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of Year 10 and Year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year, alongside the full-time provision they are offering to priority groups.