Calderdale private school defies Government pressure to reopen on Monday

A private school in Calderdale said it will defy Government pressure and not reopen on June 1.

Friday, 29th May 2020, 11:42 am
Headmaster Dr Paul Silverwood

Governors of Rishworth School have confirmed they will take the advise of Calderdale Council and only remain open to pupils of key workers and vulnerable children amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The decision by the independent school comes after the council became one the first local authorities in Yorkshire to oppose the government’s decision to re-open schools.

Headmaster Dr Paul Silverwood (circled), said: “The school will remain open only for the children of key workers and vulnerable children until the end of this term, (July 2).

Boris' Government wants to put pressure on schools to reopen after shutting in late March

“It’s our intention to extend opening to all year groups, contingent upon any specific health advice at the time, in September 2020.

“Giving a September date for extending opening will hopefully provide clarity to the whole community.

“The Governors of Rishworth School decided that to extend the opening beyond the present provisions for children of key workers, in contravention of the advice of the local authority, would be to put members of the community at undue risk, also risking a possible withdrawal of insurance cover, making it impossible to maintain any provision.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said schools will not be able to refuse to reopen altogether after half-term as the Government pushes ahead with plans to get children back into the classroom.

The Prime Minister confirmed on Sunday schools would be opening in England on June 1 but acknowledged “it may not be possible” for all of them to do so.

Stand Up to Racism campaigners have also urged black, Asian and minority ethnic parents not to send their children to school until they know it is safe, amid calls for a public inquiry into the disproportionate impact the virus has had.

The decision from Calderdale Council came under fire from Calderdale Conservative Group who said the council was not following advice from Government experts, it had education and business consequences and the evidence considered had not been presented to opposition councillors.

The Liberal Democrat Group were also angry they had been left in the dark and without being able to see evidence as to why the decision to give that advice had been reached.

At Calderdale Council's virtual Cabinet meeting on May 21 Coun Ashley Evans (Lib Dem, Warley) asked that when more information including the infection number was available that all councillors were involved in the process.

"While I am inclined to agree with Labour's decision to to increase the number of pupils, I am very disappointed by the lack of discussion and consultation before making the decision.

"Can Labour assure me this will not continue as and when we receive direction as and when the number declines?"

Leader of the Council, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said advice from Government had been received quite late and the council had been pressured by schools for a response.

Cabinet member for Children and Young People's Services, Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said the pressure of time meant headteachers needed guidance early this week as they would have to make decisions and arrangements before the half term holiday which begins tonight (May 22).

"I accept there was no consultation with other political groups but there was a lot of discussion with headteachers, a lot of them had been contacting the council seeking advice," he said.

Advice from legal, children's and public health directorates had been sought, resulting in the council advising that in its view it was unsafe to allow more children into schools - which along with Calderdale College have remained open for the children of key workers and vulnerable children - because three of the tests set out by Secretary of State Gavin Williamson could not be met at the moment.

"We issued the guidance the following day, as sson as possible. There were particular time pressures in this particular case.

"More than 90 per cent of headteacher responses were positive and of the three per cent negative two were negative because they said they hadn't received enough notice of the decision, which underlines the time pressures we were under," said Coun Wilkinson.

Coun Swift said Government scientists were expected to publish more evidence today and more details about track-and-trace were also set to be presented.