A HEADTEACHER has hit back as pupils are accused of flouting strict social distancing rules while out on their lunch break.

Sixth form pupils from Westcliff High School for Boys, and St Thomas More High School, also in Westcliff, have been spotted leaving the school “en masse” by residents and councillors.

But Michael Skelly, headteacher of Westcliff High School for Boys on Kenilworth Gardens, insists the school has “strict safety arrangements” in place.

Keith Evans, councillor of the Blenheim Park ward, said: “They’re leaving en masse at lunchtime and taking the whole of the pavement up.

“They’re forcing people out of the way and into the road.

“There appears to be no social distancing either.

“I don’t think there is a staggered lunchtime, which if it isn’t, needs to be in place.

“They’re not showing any consideration for the community and residents, many of whom are vulnerable.

“It’s what happens outside the school that is the issue.

“When they’re inside the teachers can keep an eye on them.

“Boys from St Thomas More have also been going out at the same time, which is an issue if they all meet each other. They will hang out if they bump into each other, as anyone at that age would.

“It defeats the point of the bubble.”

Mr Evans said he is not advocating keeping them in at lunchtime, but they need to be educated about what they do when they’re out and about.

He added: “I feel for the schools, it’s been challenging for them all.

“The students belong to the parents but the schools get the blame.”

Mr Skelley hit back at Mr Evans, saying: “Westcliff High School for Boys has strict safety arrangements in place on the school site and we continue to reinforce important safety messages to our pupils.

“We, like all schools, encourage every single pupil to socially distance once they have left the school site in order to protect our community and themselves.”

The headteacher said he appreciates the councillor is concerned but questioned why he had not contacted the school directly to provide precise details and give them an opportunity for them to respond.

He added: “In circumstances in which many staff have taken little or no holiday break since last March and where they continue to face many challenges resulting from the pandemic, one might have instead expected a sincere commitment to working constructively with schools.”

Krishna Ramkhelawon, the council’s director for public health, said: “We have been working hard with schools over recent weeks and months to ensure a safe return to school.

“We are aware that many schools have extra staff on patrol to try and deal with issues like this.

“I want to reiterate that we all have a role to play in controlling the spread of coronavirus. We must all keep washing our hands, keeping two metres apart from those we don’t live with, and wearing face coverings where applicable. This includes pupils too.”

St Thomas More High school was contacted for comment.