SCHOOLS in west Cheshire are now being encouraged to reopen their doors to selected year groups of pupils by next Monday (June 22) at the latest, after coronavirus spread fears eased.

Cheshire West and Chester Council had been gearing up for a June 8 reopening for schools in the borough, but had to apply the brakes at the last minute following an urgent meeting with headteachers to discuss evidence the rate of coronavirus was on the rise in the region again.

The Covid-19 'R' value figure had been given as 1.01 for the North West, which implied the number of virus cases would rise in the area, undoing the work the lockdown had down to that point.

It was agreed to delay the reopening of schools until June 22. Since that announcement, the Government confirmed most year groups will not return to school at all for the remainder of the summer term.

However, Cheshire West and Chester Council has since written to headteachers, governors and parents on Thursday, June 11, to explain there was now widespread evidence to allow the reopening of schools in the borough to a limited number of year groups.

Cheshire and Merseyside Directors of Public Health have issued a joint statement to schools regarding the ‘R’ value and phased reopening. The letter states it was right to have paused to consider the position in view of the R0 index published on Friday, June 5.

However, having reviewed the local data, they now feel they can support headteachers plans for a phased return of children. Headteachers and governors still have the final say based on their own school’s risk assessment.

Headteachers and the council’s education team have also received guidance from health experts via meetings organised by National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Advice from both sources indicates that the ‘R’ value is just one factor that needs to be taken into account with regard to the easing or tightening of lockdown measures.

There are several regional ‘R’ values that are calculated and reported. Other considerations include the low number of schools that have needed to close temporarily due to potential Covid-19 related issues; the daily number of confirmed cases in the area which have continued to fall and the confirmed cases of Covid-19 in children and young people remaining low.

The council has supported all schools in the borough to make decisions based on their own local factors. These factors can include the availability of staff, the configuration of school buildings, transport and the response of parents.

Cllr Bob Cernik, Cabinet Member for Cheshire West and Chester Council, said: “In light of the new data provided by public health colleagues and the data available to us to date our position is that schools should continue to widen their opening to the year groups identified by the Department for Education.

“In reviewing their risk assessments, schools should seek to open more widely by June 22 or earlier, as far as they can, whilst ensuring the safety, health, well-being and education provision of their children.

“The new NHS Test and Trace programme is being developed and Cheshire West and Chester Council is one of the 11 beacon councils that has been invited to be part of a project to implement a more enhanced local solution. We continue to work at a national level to continually shape this service and improve the offer for Cheshire.

“I would like to thank all of our schools who are working closely with us and adapting their plans to widen their offer over the summer term.

"As I’ve said previously I would like to remind parents that there is no pressure for you to send children back in the year groups that have been listed if you don’t feel comfortable doing so currently. No fines will be issued to parents who decide not to send their children back to school.”

All school settings are to continue to encourage vulnerable children and children with an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) to attend school alongside offering provision for children of key workers where this is required.

The advice for each school setting to open wider is set out below.

  • Primary Schools

All primary schools should seek to welcome back Reception, Y1 and Y6 children by June 22. The ability to do this will vary between schools due to a range of constraints including staffing levels, school layouts and school transport.

The Secretary of State for Education announced on June 9 that all remaining primary school pupils will not be able to attend before the end of this summer term.

  • Secondary Schools

All secondary schools should seek to welcome back Year 10 and Year 12 children by June 22 if not earlier for some face-to-face contact with a maximum of 25 per cent from the year group at any one time.

  • Special Schools

Officers have been in regular contact with Special School head teachers given the complexities of the needs of the children they support. Some Special Schools have already chosen to open more widely last week and this week and some will start their wider opening from week beginning June 15. Others will start their wider opening from week beginning June 22. All of the wider opening will be in line with both the risk assessments for the school as a whole and the risk assessments for individual children.

Schools are encouraged to continue with their best endeavours for home learning arrangements and to continue to have regular contact with all children not in school.

Schools will communicate directly with parents to confirm their planned opening dates and which year groups they will welcome back.