There is widespread concern among teachers and parents over plans to return pupils to schools, a councillor has claimed.

Epping Forest District independent councillor Stephen Murray – a teacher for almost 40 years – says he is “certain” headteachers will not reopen schools until they feel they cannot ensure the health and safety of pupils and staff.

Primary schools are set to reopen on June 1 under the government’s conditional plan for emerging from the coronavirus pandemic – Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 will return first.

In response, nine unions representing school leaders, teachers and support staff, have accused the government of showing a “lack of understanding” about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus in schools.

A joint statement, published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), warns staff will “not be protected” by social distancing if primary schools reopen.

“The government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community,” the TUC said.

Cllr Murray said unanswered questions remained on issues such as testing, social distancing and contact tracing.

He added: “My understanding is that the further guidance published by the government was not negotiated with education unions which would have seemed a reasonable thing to do.

“It does not properly address the health and safety concerns that have been raised about the wider opening of schools.”

The Loughton Roding ward councillor says teachers and parents have approached him with fears concerning the viability of social distancing in schools and on public transport.

“A fair few parents have stopped me on my daily walk to say that they won’t be sending their children back to local schools anytime soon", he said. “The government has recognised this fact in their decision to lift any legal enforcement of attendance.”

In order to ensure the safety of staff and pupils, Cllr Murray is calling for schools to reopen only after a full health and safety audit has taken place and the government has ensured the necessary PPE is available for the education sector.

“Understandably, at a very early stage of this lockdown schools were asked by the government and local authorities to surrender any PPE they had in stock for it to go into hospitals and the care sector”, Cllr Murray remarked.

He added: “All the teachers I have spoken to are working very hard preparing and delivering digital lessons and support for their pupils but they also understand the need for pupils to return to school on the shortest timescale possible consistent with their safety and those of the school staff.

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