MANY parents in St Helens are still reluctant to send their children back to school next month, headteachers have said.

Schools across the borough have been gauging the potential take-up from parents as they prepare to start welcoming more children back on-site.

Downing Street’s plan is to bring back pupils in nursery, reception, Year one and Year six from June 1, with more year groups coming back to school for a month before the summer holidays.

However, all of this is conditional on five tests for controlling the virus being met.

And in the last few days justice secretary Robert Buckland has stressed in several interviews that June 1 is not a fixed date, admitting there may not be a “uniform approach”.

This has been echoed by Andy Howard, secretary of the St Helens branch of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and headteacher of Legh Vale Primary School in Haydock.

Mr Howards said: “It’s from June the 1, so I think expectations all children are going to be back on June the 1 needs to be managing because it’s not practical.

“The key groups that we’re focusing on initially are the vulnerable pupils and key workers’ children, and as our key workers are going back to work, the ones who’ve been furloughed.

“The demand for those places is ever-increasing.

“So, we’ve been asked to look at those as a priority and then we will look at potentially some of the other year groups, including younger children as to how we can safely bring those back.”

Mr Howard said headteachers are speaking regularly and working with their governing bodies to come up with a plan that is best for their school.

And this approach has been backed by St Helens Council, which said it will support schools with the decisions they make based on their individual circumstances.

“Every school is in a different situation and ultimately it’s around keeping everybody safe, that’s the main priority,” Mr Howard said.

“Obviously we would like to try and get Year 6 in at some point to do some transition work to high school.

“And with older pupils that’s probably a bit more manageable, they understand social distancing, so that’s something we need to have a look at.

“Chairs of governors and headteachers are in a very difficult situation because they’ve got everyone’s best interests at heart.

“We’ve had a number of parents who’ve said they don’t want to come back yet until it’s safe.

“I think most schools are the same.”

From June 1, secondary schools will also be asked to provide some face-to-face support for pupils in Year 10 and Year 12, although they are not expected to return full-time.

Earlier this week De La Salle School wrote to parents to inform them of their current plans, which involve virtual sessions with Year 10 pupils.

De La Salle’s headteacher Andrew Rannard said “actions and measures” need to be in place to allow the school to safely bring more students on-site.

St Helens Star: De La Salle School headteacher Andrew Rannard De La Salle School headteacher Andrew Rannard

Mr Rannard said there was a “lack of confidence and trust” in the government following its handling of the coronavirus crisis to date.

But he insisted schools are keen to welcome back more pupils, admitting it was “infuriating” to see “mistruths” being written about teachers by sections of the national press and other public figures.

“I think there’s a feeling that all schools, all heads, everyone wants kids back – whatever the Daily Mail says – we all want kids back,” Mr Rannard said.

“It’s just knowing how to go about it safely and, we’re reliant on government advice, some of which they will put out late at night. It’s almost like a game of Where’s Wally trying to spot what the latest changes are.

“Also, a government who led the crisis in the care homes really badly, it’s hard for schools to trust.

“And I understand why staff and parents and unions are really not keen.

“Certainly, we’ve surveyed our parents and a lot of parents are still reluctant to send their kids back to school even if they were open.

“And I think that’s all symptomatic of that lack of clarity and confidence, even where there is clarity there’s a lack of confidence and trust in what’s being said.”