BLACKBURN with Darwen Borough’s education boss has called for powers to close schools hit by new coronavirus clusters if they reopen next month.

Cllr Maureen Bateson and her Lancashire County Council counterpart Cllr Philippa Williamson have yet to decide whether to start bringing more primary pupils back to class on June 1.

Liverpool has already said it will defy government guidance to allow some young children to join those of key workers and those in vulnerable circumstances at school.

Cllr Bateson is supporting the Local Government Association’s call to give local education authorities the power to close schools or nurseries if testing indicates clusters of new Covid-19 cases.

She also supported its call for the Government to urgently publish the scientific evidence that underpins advice to reopen schools from June 1.

Cllr Bateson said: “We are hoping to make a decision about a potential phased reopening of schools for some children early next week.

“I absolutely agree we need the authority from central government to make decisions locally about ensuring our children can get back to school, but they must be able to do so safely.

“We know many parents, staff and trade unions are anxious about a phased return to school. The safety of our staff, children and parents is our top priority and we have been working alongside our schools to prepare for a gradual reopening.

“It’s vital that schools have the time to be able to implement risk assessments which reflect how to adapt each school environment to keep children and staff safe.

“I would like to see more evidence that the five tests that the Government have set out for the lifting of the lockdown have been met.”

Cllr Williamson said: “We are currently considering the government’s plan for a phased return to school for children and young people in specific year groups.

“We have been working with headteachers across Lancashire and the Department for Education to put a considered, thought-out plan in place for an increase in pupil numbers for a while now. There is still significant debate about how and when it will be possible for this to happen safely in our schools.

“We have to be very careful the timings are appropriate.”

A DfE spokesman said: “We want children back in schools as soon as possible because being back with their teachers and friends is so important for their education and their well-being.

“Plans for a phased return of some year groups from 1 June, at the earliest, are based on the best scientific and medical advice. The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.”