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‘Independent SAGE’ chief warns schools cannot reopen safely on June 1

Tony Blair’s Chief Scientific Adviser when he was prime minister today claimed it is not safe to reopen on June 1 as scores of councils pulled their support.

Sir David King, who chairs the ‘Independent Sage’ committee, said it is ‘too soon’ for children to return and claims ‘new modelling’ found the risk to children would be halved if it was delayed for another fortnight.

Sir David, whose former boss Tony Blair has backed the June 1 plan, spoke out as teaching unions urged the Government to dump the date and more than 2,200 schools prepared to defy Boris Johns’s plans.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘Support for a fixed date for school return is vanishing quickly. What is needed now is local flexibility to determine when it is right for schools to open up to more pupils, informed by evidence of what is happening in their own local area’.

Today it was revealed that two thirds of councils have now told parents they cannot guarantee that primary schools will open on time. 

Sir David King, who chairs the ‘Independent Sage’ committee, said it is ‘too soon’ for children to return and claims ‘new modelling’ found the risk to children would be halved if it was delayed for another fortnight.

This is how social distanced desks will look at Holywell Village First School in Northumberland

This is how social distanced desks will look at Holywell Village First School in Northumberland  

Only around 20 of England’s 150 local authorities have said they are advising headteachers to open again in ten days’ time, it was revealed today.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has promised that scientific evidence in favour of school reopening will be published today – but it appears he is fighting a losing battle. 

A BBC survey of councils found that of the 99 that responded, 68 ‘cannot guarantee’ parents their children will be back in school at the start of June.

15 of those local authorities, mainly Labour councils in the north-west of England, said they had advised to opposed Boris Johnson’s plans. 11 said they were still considering their response with just over a week to go and 53 said headteachers could decide.  

Government plans to reopen primary schools are grounded in welfare concerns rather than evidence younger pupils are less vulnerable to coronavirus, a Sage source revealed last night. 

In the first phase of his back-to-school blueprint, Boris Johnson wants children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to go back to class on June 1.

An expert on Downing Street’s scientific advisory subcommittee on schools claimed that these specific year groups were selected based on worries for their education and wellbeing – not that they are more shielded to the disease. 

Although age is a factor in how at-risk an infected person is to Covid-19 symptoms, modelling found there was ‘no increased risk to one year group over another’.

Government plans to reopen primary schools are driven by welfare concerns rather than evidence younger pupils are less vulnerable to coronavirus (Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pictured)

Government plans to reopen primary schools are driven by welfare concerns rather than evidence younger pupils are less vulnerable to coronavirus (Education Secretary Gavin Williamson pictured)

Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, will today publish its advice on the safety of reopening primary schools next month

Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, will today publish its advice on the safety of reopening primary schools next month

The Sage source told the Telegraph that ‘welfare reasons and educational reasons’ informed the decision to pick these three year groups as the first to go back.

Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, will today publish its advice on the safety of reopening primary schools next month.  

The revelations that there is no difference in the vulnerability of certain year groups will likely whip up anger from teachers’ unions, who claim social distancing is much harder to enforce in primary schools.

Ministers have also come under growing pressure from councils, predominantly by Labour-run local authorities in the north of England, who have ruled out a wider reopening from June 1.  

A final decision on whether to go ahead with reopening schools is expected to be taken by the government on or before May 28 after the most up-to-date scientific evidence has been reviewed. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘We are continuing to hold discussions with them and to listen to their concerns.’ 

He added: ‘It remains our intention to get as many children as possible back into school as soon as we are able, in a way that’s safe.’ 

Asked when a decision would be made on the date, the spokesman told reporters: ‘I’m not in a position to say to you, definitively, when we will be able to say that.’

But ‘our intention remains to get as many children into school as soon as possible but in a safe way’.

Social workers deployed in schools

Social workers will be placed in schools across the country to help identify children at risk of abuse and neglect, the Government has announced.

Nearly £10million of funding from the Department for Education (DfE) has been announced for projects aimed at boosting the educational outcomes of vulnerable children and keeping them safe from harm.

Of this package, £6.5million will be allocated to What Works for Children’s Social Care who will deploy social workers in more than 150 schools to help staff spot the signs of children at risk more quickly.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: ‘The stark reality is that too many children are growing up at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

‘These are the most vulnerable in society, and the ones that most need our help. ‘

It is likely that local authority-run primary schools in England will look closely at what their council has to say before deciding whether to reopen on the first week of June. 

The government has also said secondary schools and colleges should aim to offer some ‘face-to-face contact’ with Year 10 and 12 students who have key exams next year during the summer term.

Teachers say they are trying to create a virus-free environment ahead of their schools’ partial reopening next month.

Charlotte Bayazian, head teacher at La Petite Ecole Bilingue in North London, can be seen rearranging tables to ensure her young pupils can socially distance while learning.

Fully masked up, she was also seen (in other photos) covering displays in plastic and marking specific seating plans to prepare for the return of the bilingual school.

The government’s proposed recommencing of teaching for all Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 classes in England has met resistance from unions and councils, who claim it is still unsafe to return. 

The union opposing the reopening of schools has written to every head in England warning they face legal action if teachers catch coronavirus.

The National Education Union (NEU) said schools could be pursued through the courts as its ups its campaign against the Government’s plan to get children back in classrooms from June 1.

It comes as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies releases its safety advice today on reopening schools, which informed the Government’s decision. Union critics said the report would ‘remove all their excuses’ for blocking reopening.

Glebe School in West Wickham remains closed because of the coronavirus outbreak

Glebe School in West Wickham remains closed because of the coronavirus outbreak

NEU boss Kevin Courtney has instructed members to obstruct heads by accusing them of violating the law and ‘threatening’ to denounce them on social media.

Letters have been sent to every school in England claiming the decision to reopen is on their ‘shoulders’, claiming they could be liable if teachers catch Covid-19 in their schools. ‘We will be advising members of their legal rights should any member contract Covid-19 upon returning to school,’ the letter warns heads and college leaders.

But it was denounced by school leaders, who said it was ‘not helpful’. Signed off by the NEU, GMB, Unison, and Unite, it claimed schools that follow Government guidance could be pursued in the courts.

Schools Week reported that the letter said: ‘We believe it is important you fully understand the potential liability you are exposing yourself to by following the current deeply flawed guidance.’ It also claimed the Department for Education (DfE) ‘failed to provide clear and robust guidance that will ensure the health and safety of pupils, staff and the wider community’.

Government sources expressed outrage at the missive, saying guidance was informed by Public Health England. A DfE spokesman said: ‘The welfare of children and staff has been at the heart of all decision making.’

A NEU spokesman said: ‘We will advise our members of their legal rights not to work if exposed to serious and imminent danger.’  

Prince William has warned of the impact that lockdown and being kept away from school could be having on children’s mental health.

In a video call to care providers, he said he was particularly concerned about the issue, despite families attempting to ‘muddle’ their way through.

He also expressed fears about their anxiety levels as a result of the pandemic generally, as well as the loss of family members to the virus, and highlighted the long-term implications of the economic outlook for school leavers.

The prince was talking to five professionals from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in a Zoom video call.

William said: ‘I’m particularly worried as to how the young people are going to cope long term because we’re all muddling through this period.

‘But the long-term implications – of school being missed, anxiety levels, family members sadly dying and the sort of general economic outlook – do you think that will play heavily on your services and what they’ll need?’

How do plans to re-open state, academy and private schools differ across the UK? 

Schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK closed more than eight weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.

Boris Johnson unveiled proposals to allow more children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school in England from as early as June 1 as part of his strategy for easing lockdown restrictions.

But the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have adopted different approaches to sending children back to the classroom.

So what are the plans for the different nations?

– Scotland

The Scottish Government aims to have all children back in schools on a part-time basis on August 11.

Teachers will return to school during June to prepare for the attendance of pupils, while there will be support where available for pupils moving into primary 1 or moving from primary to secondary school.

Education Secretary John Swinney said parts of the school estate could be expanded to allow social distancing to be observed, and community and leisure centres, conference halls and libraries could be used to allow pupils to spend more time with teachers.

Schools will reopen towards the end of the summer holidays in Scotland, but children will return to a “blended model of part-time in-school and part-time at-home learning” to allow for social distancing.

– Northern Ireland

All children are intended to restart classes on a phased basis, involving a mixture of physical attendance and remote learning, in September if enough progress is made in curbing coronavirus.

But the education minister has said schools in Northern Ireland could reopen to pupils preparing for exams in the third week of August.

Those studying for major public tests and transfer from primary to post-primary schools would be among the first to return to classes under an envisaged phased reopening, Peter Weir said.

Exams for entrance to post-primary schools are due to be held two weeks later this autumn to allow more time for primary teachers to catch up on lost lesson time since the school closures.

– Wales

The Welsh Government has not given any dates for when the country can expect schools to reopen.

Wales’ plan to exit the lockdown sets out that restrictions will be eased through three stages – red, amber and green – and each of the stages will see a “cautious” lifting of measures.

If the virus remains under control, the amber zone would follow and include allowing priority groups of pupils to return to school. Further control of the virus would move the country into the green zone, allowing all education to resume.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said she would refuse to set an “arbitrary date” for a return to schools, saying the Government first needed to see more evidence about the disease.

– England

The Government expects pre-school children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to be back in school, from the start of next month.

Young children could start returning to nurseries and primary schools in England from June 1, with the Government aiming for all primary school pupils to go back for a month before the summer holidays.

The Government has also said secondary schools and colleges should aim to offer some “face-to-face contact” with Year 10 and 12 students who have key exams next year during the summer term.

A final decision on whether to go ahead with reopening schools is expected to be taken by the Government on or before May 28 after the most up-to-date scientific evidence has been reviewed.

Are there different approaches to reopening among schools in England?

– Council-run schools

Ministers have came under growing pressure from councils, predominantly by Labour-run local authorities in the north of England, who have ruled out a wider reopening from June 1.

It is likely that local authority-run primary schools in England will look closely at what their council has to say before deciding whether to reopen on the first week of June.

A number of councils, alongside teaching unions, have been calling for the scientific evidence underpinning the decision to reopen schools in England to be published. This is expected on Friday.

– Academies

Academies, which are state schools that are not run by councils, could follow the advice of their local authority, or they may make their own decisions on whether to stick to the Government’s time scale.

But already a number of chief executives of academy chains have said schools must reopen soon to avoid “irreparable” damage to vulnerable children.

Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which has 35 primary schools, said the trust plans to admit more pupils to its schools from June 1 as he said it is “common sense” to create an opportunity for pupils to return to school.

Sir Steve Lancashire, chief executive of REAch2, the largest primary academy chain in England, also plans to open all their schools for the priority year groups.

– Private schools

Some private schools may consider keeping children in Year 6 at home when schools reopen more widely, an independent school chief has suggested.

Christopher King, chief executive of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (Iaps), which has more than 600 members, said he expects the vast majority of members in England to reopen to more pupils from June 1.

But he told the PA news agency that some private schools may decide to remain closed to Year 6 pupils who can continue their virtual learning at home.

Mr King also warned that it may be difficult for some independent schools to open if they are located in local authorities advising against a June 1 reopening.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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