A PUBLIC health director has welcomed the government’s U-turn on getting more primary pupils back to school before the end of the summer term.

Blackburn with Darwen’s Professor Dominic Harrison said dropping its drive to get more young children into class was ‘wise’.

He and his Lancashire County Council counterpart Dr Sakthi Karunanithi have both delayed the reopening of local primary schools to later than the government’s original target of June 1.

Yesterday Education Secretary Gavin Williamson abandoned the ministers’ ambition of getting all primaries in England fully open a month before the summer holidays.

While the cabinet minister said he would like to see schools with the capacity to bring back more pupils do so before the break, he admitted many would not reopen before the autumn term begins in September.

Professor Harrison said: “I welcome the fact that it will now be up to local experts to make these decisions.

“It is wiser that headteachers, governors and parents decide on return to school dates on the advice of public health experts, the evidence and the risks involved to children, staff and the wider community.

“I am rather surprised that a major policy decision has been made in this way at short notice when many schools will have made preparations for a wider return to school.

“In Blackburn with Darwen we will continue to review the evidence on a weekly basis and make decisions on that evidence.”

Lancashire County Council leader Cllr Geoff Driver said: “I am a little surprised but I don’t know enough about the rationale for the government’s decision.

“Our position remains on the advice of Dr Karunanithi that it would not be safe in the circumstances without full testing to reopen.

“Ultimately this is a decision for schools and parents but if pupils do not return until September there will be a big impact on their education which will take a big effort to put right.

“If Dr Karunanithi recommends it is safe to reopen schools further, we will follow that advice.”

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s education boss Cllr Julie Gunn said: “This is a sensible decision and shows the government has finally listened to the experts.

“We will continue to listen the the advice of our director of public health on the future wider reopening of schools.

“We have always taken a cautious approach and will continue to do so.

“I am relieved that the government has realised this is a local decision to be based on local evidence.”

At the weekend Prof Harrison advised that primaries should not start welcoming back more youngsters to classes until June 22.

Dr Karunanithi reversed his advice that schools should start opening to more pupils no earlier than June 15 and said he would review the coronavirus infection rate data again on that date. Lancashire County Council is responsible for schools in Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale

Mr Williamson told MPs he wanted all children back to school in September and that ‘exams will take place next year’.

Children in nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England began returning to some primary schools last week. While half opened for extra pupils only a quarter of pupils eligible to return to class actually did.