PRIMARY schools in Middlewich can reopen in stages next month – but parents will not be forced to send their children in if they feel it is unsafe.

Youngsters in nursery and reception classes will be able to return from June 15, with year one pupils following from June 22 and year six children from June 29.

Cheshire East Council had been in discussions with teaching unions, headteachers and the borough's parent carer forum before confirming the plan today, May 20.

Cllr Kathryn Flavell, cabinet member for children and families, praised their collective efforts to agree on a return to learning 'in what has become the biggest disruption to education since the war'.

She said: “I am conscious that there will be many parents who are anxious about sending their child to school, but I can assure them that safety is paramount.

"All necessary measures will be put in place to follow government guidelines around social distancing, staggered start and finish times and phased lunch breaks.

“Where parents do not feel comfortable about allowing their child to attend school, the council will not compel them to do so and there will be no fines issued while this initial re-introduction of school life continues.

“However, we hope that parents will feel reassured by the safety measures being taken and agree that it is in the best interests of our children that they attend school and benefit from learning alongside their peers.”

The council insists safety is key, and a two-week period will allow staff to prepare classrooms and implement the significant changes that need to be made to ensure safe working practices with smaller numbers of children and young people.

Attendance will be limited and controlled, based on staffing capacity and physical space, and social distancing must be observed.

Meanwhile, year 10 and 12 students across the borough are also preparing to return on a phased basis from next month.

READ > Middlewich High School reveals year 10 return plans

Colleges will offer one-on-one support for some learners from June 1 on a risk-assessed basis and parents will be encouraged to allow their children to return to special schools from that date.

Independent schools and alternative education providers will be expected to follow the same approach.

Children of key workers will continue to attend school as they have done during the pandemic.

Mark Palethorpe, executive director of people and director of children services at CEC, added: “We will continue to monitor this very challenging transition towards wider full-time teaching and learning and will make any necessary changes as we make progress.

“We will listen to all concerns and act accordingly. Covid-19 has brought with it stress, uncertainty and anxiety for many.

"We need to make sure that any return to early years settings, schools and colleges is safe for children’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

“Our priority is to make sure that any way forward is safe for everyone within our schools and we will be delivering a supply of personal protective equipment to all schools and colleges prior to them opening."