Schools hoping for 'safe and sustainable' reopening on March 8
- Credit: Archant
Education leaders in Suffolk and north Essex have welcomed the government's decision to give schools two weeks' notice before reopening.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that schools could reopen on March 8 at the earliest - providing the current speed of the coronavirus vaccine rollout is maintained.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said the government would set out plans for a "gradual and phased" route out of lockdown on February 22, describing the return of students to classrooms as "the first sign of normality".
The decision has been welcomed by school leaders - but they have said they are planning for "a range of scenarios".
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and former headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said: "Everybody agrees that getting all children back into class is vital as soon as possible, but this clearly cannot be rushed in such desperate circumstances.
"What is crucial is that the government ensures that full reopening is done in a way which is safe and sustainable, and which inspires the confidence of education staff and the public."
Philip Hurst, headteacher of Thomas Mills High School in Framlingham, said: "If schools are to re-open on March 8, a decision would ideally be made around mid-February to support effective school planning.
"There will be lots of considerations. For example, will all pupils and staff be regularly tested, should there be a phased return for pupils, and will teachers be vaccinated?
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"Hopefully, the national and local statistics on a range of measures will paint a very different picture from mid-February so that we can realistically plan to open schools again.
"Equally, we all know that the goalposts can change and so we will be planning for a range of scenarios."
Jerry Glazier, Essex branch secretary for the National Education Union, added: "We want schools to reopen, but only as soon as it is safe to do so. We want to be guided by the science.
"The government can do more and should do more. We may have to have a variety of models when schools go back.
"What we do welcome is the government giving notice. The more notice they get, the better prepared schools will be."
Jack Abbott, education spokesman for Labour at Suffolk County Council, said: "Committing to giving schools two weeks’ notice before they fully reopen represents some sort of progress from the chaotic decision making we have seen over the past year, but clearly there is much more to be done.
"The government must urgently issue clear and supportive guidance, provide assurances around mass testing and safety, ensure vaccinations for all teachers and support staff, and keep class sizes low by introducing phased returns and blended learning where necessary."