Open letter: keep Greater Manchester schools closed until it is safe

We the undersigned welcome the comments by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham on 13 May 2020 that the ‘Stay at Home’ message had been dropped too soon and urging a cautious approach to people returning to work and school. We call on him to support teachers, parents, pupils, headteachers and governors who oppose a return to schools before they believe it is safe.

We applaud the work many school staff have done in accommodating the children of key workers and children facing serious danger at home, and in supporting children who would go hungry.

Though most children are at lower risk of dying from the coronavirus, the more pupils who are in school the longer it will take to get the virus under control and the greater the risk of further deadly peaks of infection. Many school staff are vulnerable, as are many adults who live with school-age children.

While the pandemic remains out of control it is impossible to operate schools safely with more than tiny numbers of pupils, particularly for the youngest kids. Spreading children out requires more staff than usual, taking them away from supporting learning for those at home. Opening schools before it is safe is about childcare to get parents back to work, not about education.

We welcome the opposition of education unions (including the head teachers’ unions) to a premature return to schools, before their five tests to ensure safety are met. We oppose any attempt to sanction pupils or parents for non-attendance or to use league tables to penalise schools or teachers who put safety first.

We call on Greater Manchester Andy Burnham to oppose any return to school before school staff and their unions are satisfied that it is safe.

The open letter was sent to Andy Burnham on Tuesday 19 May 2020, with over 1500 signatures.

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