Primary schools across the country are scheduled to welcome back pupils from Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 on June 1, according to the latest government coronavirus guidelines. But at least 18 councils have so far rebelled, saying that they have no plans to sanction such an early return. This came shortly after teaching unions claimed that the reopenings are unlikely to go ahead over safety fears, citing the difficulty of maintaining sufficient social distancing.
The largest union, the NEU, has explicitly urged schools “not to engage with planning” for the start of June. The head of the British Medical Association (BMA), Chaand Nagpaul, wrote a letter last week supporting the NEU’s position on the grounds that “we cannot risk a second spike or take actions which would increase the spread of this virus”. But the chair of the BMA’s Public Health Medicine Committee, Peter English, later seemed to soften this stance, writing in an article for The Telegraph that a “zero-risk approach is not possible” and that “the BMA wants schools to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so and the evidence allows – this could be before June 1 or after.”
Emily, a teacher at a Catholic primary school in Leeds, where the local council has said that it has no plans to enforce the government’s reopening guidelines, told the Catholic Herald that staff had significant safety concerns about implementing any imminent reopening. “We can’t successfully and consistently socially distance younger children,” she said. “Schools have already been open and are willing to stay open for key worker children but having all children back seems like a big stretch and there isn’t much science behind it at the moment to confirm it’s safe.”
Speaking to the Herald, Paul Barber, Director of the Catholic Education Service, praised Catholic schools for remaining open to the children of key workers, saying that “school leaders, teachers and support staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty.” In response to the government guidelines, he insisted that “any phased reopening must place the safety, health and well-being of pupils and staff as its number one priority and should be done in close collaboration with dioceses and local authorities.”
“Schools must be provided with clear information, proper support and enough time to plan and make thorough risk assessments, before they make the final decision,” he concluded.
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