CUMBRIAN schools are being urged to pause any further expansion of provision as it was revealed the reproduction rate of coronavirus in the North West is the highest in the country.

Cumbria National Education Union (NEU) sent out an urgent message to schools and members this weekend following the publication of the latest Government figures, asking them to delay opening to any more pupils for a least one week.

Chris Brooksbank, Cumbria NEU Secretary, said: "We are advising all members to inform their employers -headteachers and governors - if they have concern that the planned expansion poses an unnecessary, serious and imminent risk to the pupils, their families, themselves and the wider community.

"All members who do this will have the full support of the union if they decide to work from home as reasonably directed, and be protected by Health and Safety law.

"Cumbria NEU continues to support provision for vulnerable and essential worker children."

Teachers’ union NASUWT has also written to several local authorities in the North West urging them to reconsider plans to press ahead with the wider reopening of schools.

It comes as concerns have been raised that the reproduction rate of coronavirus is dangerously high - with a report by Public Health England and Cambridge University placing the R value just above 1 in the North West.

If R is 1 or higher, the virus will spread exponentially through the population, while a value less than 1 indicates the virus is in decline.

In Cumbria the local authority has left the decision to reopen to individual schools.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions schools have been asked to make and in some ways nobody can guarantee they have made the right decision. Delaying, reducing interactions, can only improve the situation regarding the rates of infection," Mr Brooksbank continued.

"We recognise that all schools are at very different points and that this will have a big impact on them and their families; but believe pausing now is the only rational step in these circumstances."

The NEU also highlighted that an R rate below one was suggested an essential measure to indicate it was safe to open. It said it is in "serious doubt" as to whether the Government's five tests - which include suppressing the virus and ensuring the R rate is down - have been met.

The NEU said it will provide and update towards the end of the week and is asking schools to retain a focus on distance learning and support for the most vulnerable, with staff urged not to make unnecessary visits to schools.

"We believe this is the only way we can honestly support the key messages – Stay alert (stay at home), protect the NHS and save lives," the statement concluded.