THE county council is facing a challenge from teaching unions in Cumbria as the date approaches for schools to reopen following lockdown closures.

The county council has left the final decision with individual schools on how and when to reopen after the Government announced that children from nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 would be allowed to go back to school next week.

But Andy Brewerton, the president of the Cumbria district of the National Education Union (NEU), has now called for the county council to take control and shelve the reopening until ‘it is safe to do so’, with 350,000 people having signed a petition in support of that message.

The union – which represents teachers and other staff working in schools – has outlined five tests which it believes must be satisfied before an expanded reopening of the county’s classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The tests are: a much lower numbers of cases; a national plan for social distancing in schools; access to regular testing for children and staff; a strategy for when a case occurs in a school; protection for vulnerable staff and staff who live with vulnerable people.

The chairs of Cumbria’s six constituency Labour parties have also written to council leader, Stewart Young, to back the union’s argument that the five ‘very reasonable’ tests should be met before schools reopen.

Responding to the NEU’s concerns, Cllr Sue Sanderson said: “I want to stress that schools can open from June 1, not on it. It’s not a strict start date - we’ve said this from the beginning. Schools can reopen in the way they feel is most appropriate and safest. And schools won’t be opening fully in any case. We feel that only the Government and not local authorities can legally close schools in the circumstances.

“This means it is absolutely vital that parents and carers read the information provided to them by their child’s school very carefully to make sure they understand the arrangements in their area and to speak to their school if they are unsure.”

A council spokesman said: “Cumbria has a wide range of schools in different circumstances, as such we expect a diversity of arrangements as the new system gets started.”