Minister cannot say whether all primary pupils will return before holidays

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It is “difficult to say” whether the government’s ambition to bring back all primary school children to school before the summer holidays will come to fruition, an education minister has said.

Schools standards minister Nick Gibb did not confirm that the government’s proposal had been given the green light, but he suggested that rotas could be used if there is wider reopening.

The government previously announced its ambition for all primary school pupils in England to go back to school for a month before the summer break began in July and August.

But Gibb told MPs that the final decision will be led by the science.

He said: “We don’t know until we see more evidence of the R factor continuing to reduce over the next few weeks.”

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

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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 1 June.

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 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 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.”

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, Gibb said: “The more we all adhere to the rules, the more that we’ll be able to make further progress in reopening schools.”

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