Britain’s head teachers’ union has backed plans for schools to reopen on June 1 following meetings with key government advisers.
The Association of School and College Leaders claim teachers were no more at risk than any other profession heading back to work as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease.
The National Association of Head Teachers said it would support government plans to reopen primary schools following advice from scientists.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday outlined the plans for reception, year 1 and 6 – as well as years 10 and 12 – to return from June 1.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday outlined the plans for reception, year 1 and 6 – as well as years 10 and 12 – to return from June 1
Countries including Denmark (pictured) have already begun reopening schools with social distancing measures in place
Parents across the country have been homeschooling their children during coronavirus lockdown (a family in Huddersfield, pictured)
He insisted that pupils ‘stand to lose more by staying away from school’.
What safety measures are planned to reduce coronavirus in schools?
Ministers have unveiled a raft of measures to keep pupils who do return to school safe from coronavirus.
- Classes of no more than 15 pupils
- Socially distanced desks
- Children told to only mix in small groups, with those groups not mixing with others.
- Increased and regular cleaning of schools
- Staggered lunch and break times
- Staggered arrivals and departures
- Packed lunches
- No shared classroom equipment
He outlined measures schools will take avoid a surge in the killer disease which has killed 34,500 people in the UK and infected 241,000.
Measures include small classes and keeping children in small socially-distanced groups.
A group of five former education secretaries – Labour’s Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke and Conservatives Nicky Morgan, Damian Hinds and Justine Greening – all support the government’s plans for reopening schools in phases, The Times reports.
Ms Greening said: ‘Despite many parents’ best efforts to keep education going in difficult circumstances, this time out of school will create an even bigger opportunity gap later.
‘Our children and young people need to be back in school and other countries like Denmark show that it’s possible to put in place a workable plan.’
Mr Hinds added: ‘The plan to get more children returning from June 1 is a very cautious and gradual one and follows the broad pattern across Europe.’
He said the effects of not being in school have been ‘felt by children throughout the country, especially the most disadvantaged’.
Denmark (pictured) was the first country in Europe to reopen its schools for its youngest pupils
Schools have also opened in France (Paris, pictured) with teachers wearing masks as they assist their students
He said it is ‘right’ that there is transparency about how plans are being made and that is why bodies including the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has published papers.
On schools, the Department for Education has published a summary of the evidence, he added.
‘As parents, we want to know what the background to this is,’ Mr Hinds said.
‘This is still a couple of weeks away. Over that period, people will have the opportunity to hear more about it and build confidence.
Young children ARE as likely to get coronavirus as adults, says deputy chief medical officer
Dr Jenny Harries warned children are one of the two groups that are potentially at risk of contracting the virus, but said they ‘don’t get as ill’ and are ‘less likely to pass it on’, during Saturday’s coronavirus news briefing.
Previous research has shown infants are not as likely to become infected by coronavirus than adults and, if they do, show milder symptoms, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr Harries said: ‘There are two groups that are at potential risk here, one are children.
‘We think that children probably have the same level of infection, we are just going through that data now with the ONS (Office of National Statistics) survey, but they don’t get as ill.
‘We rarely see children in hospital in proportion to the older population.
‘And for younger children as well, the evidence is still growing but there may be some evidence that they are less likely to pass it on.’
‘It is in everybody’s best interests that children can go back to school.’
Mr Hinds also paid tribute to the ‘extraordinary’ job teachers have done in the last few weeks as he said that different children have had different experiences of learning during the lockdown.
Asked about current arguments over whether or not it is too early for children to begin to return to school, Mr Hinds told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think ultimately everybody is on the same page.’
He said that among the teachers he has spoken to ‘of course there are concerns about safety’, adding that is why there is a ‘comprehensive plan’.
But Mr Hinds added that ‘these teachers really want to be back teaching kids’.
Plans have been met by criticism from trade unions, ministers and local authorities over the safety of sending children back to school.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, Labour MP Rachel Reeves said: ‘This isn’t just about schools, this is about wider issues around easing some of the lockdown restrictions.
‘But the anxiety teachers and parents face would be a lot less if we had that test, trace and isolate strategy in place.
‘We want that to be up and running to ease the whole range of the lockdown restrictions.
‘But specifically on schools we want the Government to work with the teachers, parents and teaching unions to give them confidence and to publish the science upon which the decision is being made to reopen schools.’
Ms Reeves said the Government has two weeks to put in place the test and trace approach, hold talks with the relevant parties and publish the science before schools are due to welcome more pupils through their gates.
She added: ‘The Government has got a lot more work to do to give that confidence that it’ll be safe to have more children coming into school in two weeks’ time.’
Hartlepool in County Durham joined Liverpool yesterday in saying it would ignore the Government’s plan to let some primary school pupils back to the school from June 1.
Concerns have been echoed by The British Medical Association who warned the number of coronavirus cases was still too high to open schools safely.
In Belgium, a teacher wears a visor to protect herself as she teachers her class in Sint-Marten-Latem
In a letter to National Education Union general secretary Kevin Courtney on Friday, the BMA council’s chairman , Chaand Nagpau said: ‘We cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus, particularly as we see sustained rates of infection across the UK.’
He added: ‘Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.’
Furthermore, Boris Johnson has been warned he may cause a fracturing of national unity if he fails to listen to regional concerns about the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham spoke out as a poll reported public support for the UK Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis had slipped.
Mr Burnham said the Prime Minister did not inform civic leaders of his easing of restrictions in advance and said the dropping of the Stay at Home message felt ‘premature’.
While cases of coronavirus have been easing in the South East, Mr Burnham believes the loosening of restrictions came too quickly for the North.
‘On the eve of a new working week, the PM was on TV “actively encouraging” a return to work.
Some children returned to school on Friday as Belgium further eased its two-month coronavirus lockdown
‘Even though that would clearly put more cars on roads and people on trams, no-one in Government thought it important to tell the cities that would have to cope with that,’ Mr Burnham wrote in The Observer.
‘The surprisingly permissive package might well be right for the South East, given the fall in cases there. But my gut feeling told me it was too soon for the North.
‘Certainly, the abrupt dropping of the clear Stay at Home message felt premature.
‘If the Government carries on in the same vein, expect to see an even greater fracturing of national unity. Different places will adopt their own messaging and policies.’
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Sunday, Mr Burnham called for the Government to publish a regional breakdown of the R value – which measures how many people on average one infected person transmits the disease to – to help local authorities decide when to reopen schools following opposition from unions to Government plans to start sending some primary school children back from June 1.
He said: ‘People do not have the R information at the moment. They can get it, but it’s not formally published by the Government.’
Meanwhile, only 39 per cent of Britons approve of the Government’s response – down from 48 per cent a week ago – according to an Opinium survey of 2,005 adults on Wednesday and Thursday.
Those saying they disapproved rose from 36 per cent to 42 per cent.
The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield asked ‘unions to stop ‘squabbling’ because it would be ‘extremely damaging’ to keep children away from school.
A group of five former education secretaries – including Damian Hinds (right) and Justine Greening (left) – all support the government’s plans for reopening schools in phases
Ms Longfield has urged the sector to aspire for all children to return to school in some form before the summer, and to use school buildings for summer schools and family support over the holidays.
She said: ‘We cannot afford to wait for a vaccine, which may never arrive, before children are back in school.
‘It’s time to stop squabbling and agree a staggered, safe return that is accompanied by rigorous testing of teachers, children and families.’
The President of the National Education Union, Amanda Martin, is planning on joining Jeremy Corbyn at a ‘virtual rally’ to tell activists how they can ‘resist’ the Government plans, the newspaper also reported.