Coronavirus UK: Primary school classroom segregates pupils

by David Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent For Mailonline

A final decision on sending tens of thousands pf primary school children back to class  on Monday will not be taken until tomorrow, a Government minister confirmed today.

Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the controversial plans for reception and years one and six to go back on June 1 would depend on evidence that the rate of infection – the R rate – was continuing to drop across the UK.

Appearing virtually before the Education Committee he admitted it was ‘difficult to say’ whether the Government’s ambition to bring back all primary school children back before the summer holidays will come to fruition.

He told MPs this morning: ‘It will be totally led by the science. We don’t know for certain until tomorrow that schools will return on 1 June for reception, year 1 and year 6.

‘That will depend on the science, although schools are planning for it and all the indications are that the science is leading in the right direction. But the confirmation of that will be tomorrow.

‘So we don’t know until we see more evidence of the R factor continuing to reduce over the next few weeks.’

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared to confirm at the weekend that schools would open on Monday, as he sought to deflect attention from the controversy surrounding his aide Dominic Cummings. 

But Downing Street insisted today that he had said the move was subject to a ‘formal review’ tomorrow. 

Schools Standards minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the plans for reception and years one and six to go back on June 1 would depend on evidence that the R rate was continuing to drop

Addressing the virtual Education Select Committee, Mr Gibb said that rotas could be introduced if primary schools are also reopened to years two to five to ensure social distancing takes place.

His comments came after Boris Johnson announced the Government was pushing ahead with plans to reopen primary schools to reception, year one, and year six from June 1.

MPs asked the minister to explain why a single national approach was being taken to reopen schools when there are large regional differences in level of infection, such as the north of England, and to set out how the Government is reassuring the public that schools are safe to reopen from Monday.

It comes after ministers have come under pressure from teaching unions and councils who have urged the Government to reconsider their plans to open schools more widely next week.

But Mr Gibb said: ‘I am very optimistic and confident that the vast majority of local authorities are planning to reopen their primary reception, year one and year six from June 1.’

He acknowledged there are some areas in the country which have ‘issues’ with reopening in the next few weeks, but he said the Department for Education (DfE) is working with these councils.

The minister confirmed that a decision on whether schools will reopen to reception, year one and year six will be taken on Thursday after the Government has reviewed scientific evidence.

Addressing Mr Gibb on Wednesday, Tory MP Jonathan Gullis said: ‘We have obviously talked about that we are not going to open until we know the science is safe and the Government has given a strong message about that.

‘Unfortunately the events over the bank holiday weekend by Mr Dominic Cummings has meant the Government’s message has been undermined.

‘Even though the law may not have been broken, the spirit of the law has indeed been broken.’

Mr Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said he has been contacted by parents, teachers and academy chains asking how they can regain confidence in the Government’s messaging.

In response to the questioning, Mr Gibb said: ‘The more we all adhere to the rules, the more that we’ll be able to make further progress in reopening schools.’

Tory MP Christian Wakeford asked what plans were in place for primary schools that say they will not be able to accommodate all year groups before the summer holidays.

Addressing MPs on the Education Select Committee, Mr Gibb said rotas could be brought in if there is a wider reopening for years two to five.

He said: ‘Those are the issues we are addressing. How do you maintain social distancing while also bringing back later groups?

‘We are looking at all the different options, for example rotas, for those at that stage.’

The minister added: ‘That is one of many possibilities of how we bring back more children while maintaining social distancing.’