SCHOOLS in Oldham will NOT be forced to reopen in line with the government plan.

And parents who fear the health of their children could be harmed by sending them back to school will not face prosecution.

The borough's managing director of children and young people services Gerard Jones has said the decision on whether they reopen will be left to the heads of individual schools.

He told a coronavirus pandemic media briefing the decision would "depend on their individual risk assessments", indicating the Oldham approach would differ markedly from the confrontation which taken place in the neighbouring Bury authority where the MPs and council are at loggerheads over the whether children should be back in class.

Mr Jones said: "We'll work with them and support them with whatever they decide is the right thing for a particular school."

And he said the primary legal responsibility for the health and safety of children in schools rests on the schools themselves, while Oldham Council has a responsibility to make sure such plans "adequate and appropriate".

Mr Jones continued: "Schools will be in different positions, depending on how they’ve been impacted and on their own circumstances.

"We’re not imposing a one size fits all approach. We’re working with the schools very close. They are actually open already mostly, providing support to key workers and vulnerable children.

"This is not reopening. This is an expansion of the existing arrangements, on a very careful risk-based approach, because this is a big step for schools and we’ve worked closely alongside them.

"One of the best things we’ve achieved with our school colleagues is staying in touch with them very closely. We’ve been providing guidance to them almost on a daily basis and engaging. We think we know our schools well and we’ll work with them. We’re just taking it step by step."

Mr Jones added that their would be no compulsory attendance or fines and the Department of Education would not performance managing schools either, based on attendance.

He said: "In the end, parents will make their decision. Wherever we can reassure them and it’s safe for them to do so, we’ll help them. But parents have got the final say about the safety and welfare of their children.

"For most children, this will be a really good thing if we can do it safely because they really need to be back at school and back engaged.

"There are family pressures that are also arising that this will help with. But it’s really on an individual basis and we won’t be tracking and chasing people down, but we will be encouraging and listening to the individual circumstances of children and families."

He said that the academies had their own legal responsibility and it would be their executive boards which would make the decision.

"We're working with the whole sector and we'll be supporting academies with what they're doing.

"We will se quite a diversity of provision. Some may be able to manage it quite well. In discussions with school leaders, they really feel that Year 6 is the realistic option in the first instance, rather than in the reception and Year 1 and we’re listening to that advice.

"We’re benefiting from a really good relationship with our schools."

Responding, Nigel Yoe, joint secretary of the National Education Union's Oldham district, said: "Many teachers, particularly those who are shielding, have young children of their own or who use public transport, have serious concerns about introducing a large number of pupils back into school on June 1.

"Oldham is currently ranked as the eighth highest hot spot for Covid-19 in the UK and the Oldham District of the National Education Union considers the government’s plans for re-introducing pupils on that date to be reckless and unsafe.

"Oldham NEU is not against the concept of a wider opening of schools but it is adamant that schools should open only when absolutely safe. June 1 is a date proposed by the government simply because it is the start of the half-term. We say schools in Oldham are not ready to re-open to more children yet and headteachers should not feel pressurised to do so."