School decision labelled ‘dangerous’ by teaching union spokesman

The phased reopening of schools will go ahead on June 1 as planned Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOT

The phased reopening of schools will go ahead on June 1 as planned Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

A teaching union spokesman has slammed the government’s decision to go ahead with the phased reopening of schools.

Graham White, NUT spokesman Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Graham White, NUT spokesman Picture: ANDY ABBOTT - Credit: Andy Abbott

Graham White, spokesman for the Suffolk branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), labelled the plan “ill-thought-out and faintly ridiculous” in the face of unclear evidence about the effect of coronavirus on children.

June 1

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government intended to go ahead with plan to return nursery, reception, Year 1, and Year 6 pupils to primary schools and early years settings on June 1 – with secondary schools providing some contact for Year 10 and Year 12 students from June 15.

Mr Johnson called it a deliberately cautious approach after a constructive period of consultation with teachers and unions, adding: “The education of children is crucial for their welfare, for their long-term future and for social justice.

“In line with the approach being taken in many other countries, we want to start getting our children back into the classroom in a way that is as manageable and as safe as possible.”

The final decision will be taken as part of the formal review into lockdown measures, with schools only reopening to more children if the government’s five tests are being met by Thursday.

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The PM acknowledged the June 1 opening may not be possible for all schools, but said the government would continue to support and work with the sector so that any schools experiencing difficulties were able to open more widely as soon as possible.

‘At odds with Sage advice’

NUT spokesman, Mr White said the decision was at odds with research published by Sage scientific advisers about how schools could safely reopen.

He said the government’s plan was absent from nine scenarios put forward by the Department for Education to be modelled – and that evidence was unclear on the role of children in transmitting Covid-19. “It seems the government are sending primary school children back just to see how it goes before sending secondary schools back – and I think that’s dangerous in the extreme,” he added.

“We absolutely understand the concerns of parents and have never said schools shouldn’t reopen at all, but that they should be open for a limited number of vulnerable children and children of key workers until there’s a strict, efficient tracked test system in place.

“I recommend parents don’t send children back unless schools can guarantee their safety – but with the best will in the world, they can’t make that guarantee.”

The PM said he thought it was important for the Government to be clear now so that teachers and parents can plan in earnest for schools to reopen a week on Monday.

Clare Flintoff, chief executive at ASSET Education, a group of 14 Suffolk primary schools, said the announcement had come earlier than initially expected and that the education community would need to be convinced it was safe to return, and to be assured that the test, track and trace programme was ready in time for Thursday’s final decision.

‘Parents should decide’

Ipswich mum Rachel said her five-year-old will be returning to Whitehouse Primary School on June 5 when it reopens, adding: “I think it is the right decision as children need to start getting back to normality. “They’ve been off school for so long, so slowly introducing them back is the best idea in my opinion.

“As long as social distancing is followed I don’t see a problem with it.”

Joanna Billings added: “I really feel if the government decides that the moment is right to open them then they should.

“I really feel each person’s opinion will be personal to their own circumstances. Having schools open is necessary for some who desperately need it for their children. It’s not compulsory anyway. I have chosen not to send mine because one of my children would be going and one wouldn’t, being that she is in year five and my son is in reception.”

‘Not possible for all schools’

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the Prime Minister’s recognition that it will not be possible for all primary schools in England to open to more pupils from June 1.

“The reality is that many schools will need to phase back eligible pupils over a period of time, and there will be a great deal of variability across the country according to context,” he said.

“We also welcome the decision to push back bringing in Year 10 and 12 students to June 15 and the clarification about the maximum number of students at any one time.”

He added: “However, we have to say that the Government has not done a good job in building confidence in its plans. It has not communicated the rationale for its chosen approach well, and it left primary schools with little time to plan and implement safety protocols.”

• Join our Open House debate on the reopening of schools, taking place online via Zoom from midday on Thursday, May 28.

Panellists will include Rebecca Leek, director of strategy at Asset Education, a representative from the Orwell Multi-Academy Trust, and Graham White.

Parents are being invited to join the debate, share their views and ask questions.

Join the event by registering on this link.

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