closed school
© REUTERS/Mark Hartnell
A revolt of mainly Labour-led local councils has pushed 10 Downing Street to admit it will not penalize some 1,500 primary schools in England who said they'd disobey its call for reopening from Covid-19 closures.

Schools across the UK were shuttered due to the pandemic on March 20, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government sought to open them back up on June 1, so the pupils would get at least a month's worth of classroom time before the summer holidays.

That plan is now looking highly unlikely, as eighteen local councils - including two led by the PM's own Conservatives - have openly rejected the plan, along with the opposition Labour party and the NASUWT teachers' union. Just five percent of NASUWT members believe it is safe to reopen the schools on June 1, the union said.

Johnson's minister for education is Gavin Williamson, who led the defence portfolio between 2017 and 2019. Judging by the comments from 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, the government appears to have capitulated to the rebels and abandoned its threat to sanction the resistance.

"We are continuing to work closely with teachers, schools and the unions," a spokesman for the government said on Tuesday, adding that the focus at the moment is on "trying to work with them in a consultative way in order to be able to open schools to more pupils in a way that is safe."

Among the 'rebel' councils are Labour-led Barking, Birmingham, Bradford, Bury, Calderdale, Dagenham and Redbridge, Leeds, Liverpool, Slough, Wakefield, and Wigan. However, the Tory-led Essex and Solihull have also bucked the government.

"The reality in Solihull is that schools will need to use that first week in June to ensure they are completely ready for more pupils to attend," said council leader Ian Courts, adding that June 8 might be more realistic.

With the neutral or independent councils of Wirral, Stockport, Hartlepool, and Brighton and Hove, the eighteen 'rebels' account for up to 1,500 primary schools across England.