Union urges government to ‘draw back’ on school reopening, saying staff, pupils and families ‘deserve better’

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The government has been urged to drop plans to reopen primary schools to pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on Monday 1 June. Current plans could see all primary schools in England returning to normal before the summer holidays.

Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than nine weeks ago due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers. From Monday, class sizes will be limited to 15, with government guidance suggesting desks should be spaced further apart.

Unions urge government to “draw back” plans

However, unions have called for the government to “draw back” on the 1 June reopening. The National Education Union (NEU) said the contact tracing system must be running successfully before the risk level that comes with children and teachers returning to school can be mitigated. NEU general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said:

School leaders, their staff and pupils’ families deserve better than this.

Even at this late stage, we call on the Government to draw back from wider opening of primary schools from Monday.

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Instead we urge Government to engage in talks with the profession and the unions, including the NEU, about how to open schools more widely once the contact tracing system is shown to be working.

Meanwhile, the National Governance Association chief executive Emma Knights has expressed concern about a return to normal before summer. According to the BBC, Knights has written to education secretary Gavin Williamson asking him to “review and drop” this expectation. She told the broadcaster:

Unless something dramatic changes very soon in terms of the Government’s scientific and medical advice, it will simply not be possible for primary schools to invite all pupils back for a whole month of education before the summer holidays.

It is adding to uncertainty for parents, but also extra pressure on school leaders and governing boards who think that they need to try and do this when actually it wouldn’t be safe.

Easing the lockdown in England: key dates


Government response

Williamson has written in the Sun that schools should commit to “welcoming more children back” as a number of councils in England have said they will keep them closed on Monday. He wrote:

Covid-19 has made it even more difficult for some children to get the most from their education and we cannot let the virus wreck the hopes and dreams of a generation.

Ministers have said their five key tests required for the easing of lockdown have been met. There are hopes all pupils will return to school four weeks before the summer break begins in July. Although schools standards minister Nick Gibb has said the final decision will be led by the science.

A survey of local authorities by the PA news agency found more than a dozen are advising schools not to open to more pupils from 1 June.

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