MOST primary schools in Bury will partially reopen by June 15 – and some could open on June 1 in line with government guidance, a council chief has confirmed.

Risk assessments on the health and safety of pupils, teachers and staff are currently being undertaken at all primary schools across the borough.

This comes after Bury Council wrote to headteachers last week advising them not to open for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on June 1, despite the Prime Minister’s instructions, until it was decided it is deemed safe to do so.

But Conservative councillors, accused of using the matter as a “political football”, have criticised the council, urging it to reconsider its position.

Karen Dolton, executive director for children and young people, told councillors most local authorities in the region have struggled with the timescale set.

She said: “There was never any indication that the partial reopening will include early years. It caught everybody on the back foot because having Reception and Year 1 children wasn’t in any of the modelling set out.

“So schools have had to reconfigure where they put desks, the rota and catering arrangements.

“Our Bury schools are working together like they never have before –  headteachers are clearly united.

“They were rightly concerned about this being done before it was safe to do so and in order for it to be safe they needed to undertake the health and safety assessment. They felt that June 1 was not reasonable.

“But there isn’t a single headteacher in the borough that doesn’t want to see children back in school to get an education.”

Conservative Group leader Cllr Nick Jones questioned why the council’s position statement last week did not go through any formal decision-making process.

He said: “There’s 51 councillors in our council and it made us all look like fools.

“There was no leadership from the top based on some of the very high-profile media interviews which, to put it lightly, were an utter car crash.

“It made our council look like a laughing stock. As leader of the opposition, I think it made us look like idiots.”

Cllr Eamonn confirmed the position had been discussed at an informal cabinet meeting before a letter was sent by the council to headteachers.

But Ms Dalton admitted the matter should have been discussed at the council’s cross-party Covid-19 Emergency Powers Group sooner.

Cllr Bob Caserta went further and urged the council to reconsider its position.

He said: “This may be about safety, but we’ve got kids in this borough who are going hungry. They rely on the food they get at school and they rely on the discipline which they get from school.

“We’ve got to give kids an education. It’s not about us. If you cross the road, it’s dangerous – you can never have 100 per cent certainty.

“But these kids need a stable education.”

Ms Dalton reminded Cllr Caserta that all children who are eligible for free school meals are still receiving them either at school or via a food voucher.

She also revealed that the council has provided 400 food hampers to families.

Deputy leader Cllr Tamoor Tariq, who is responsible for education at the council, confirmed he took the decision to write to headteachers, stating the local authority’s position, following feedback from headteachers.

He said: “We are, from time to time, able to offer advice to schools. In this unique situation, headteachers had a timescale set out.

“Previously to May 18,  there were eight days from which the Prime Minister made his announcement. These eight days caused a lot of stress.

“It was felt that we should communicate a position statement from the local authority. What the headteachers were facing was a challenge and a slight panic as to how they were expected to put in those arrangements on June 1.

“What this statement was about was giving the headteachers that breathing space so that they could assess confidently and know where they were at.

“Eventually, the government guidance have been watered down somewhat. Bury has led the way in ensuring that unnecessary stress has not been put on headteachers.

“We’ll move forward to ensure that teaching and learning returns back to school as soon as possible.”

Cllr Andrea Simpson, first deputy of the council, added: “This is not something that takes a small amount of time.

"The Prime Minister’s decision to slacken lockdown had massive implications for the schools with regards to the amount of work undertaken to get the schools to be in a position to partially reopen.

“Let’s not use this as a political football and let’s not target individuals. We all just want our children to be safe.”