June 1 earliest ‘realistic’ reopening date for schools
PUBLISHED: 10:35 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:35 23 April 2020
The earliest realistic date for schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic is June 1, a former Bury St Edmund head who now leads the headteachers’ union has said.
Geoff Barton, former headteacher of King Edward VI Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, and currently the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned “planning would need to begin very soon” in order to meet the target.
“We cannot see any realistic way that schools could be reopened to more pupils before the second half of the summer term,” he said.
Schools and colleges across the UK closed their doors to the majority of pupils, apart from the children of key workers and vulnerable youngsters, from March 23. GCSEs and A Level exams have been cancelled. There has been no official guidance on when schools and colleges will reopen, but children are now returning to nurseries and schools in some other European countries.
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Head teachers should start making preparations on how schools could reopen their doors to children, said Mr Barton.
He suggested staggering the return of pupils, with Year 6s, Year 10s and Year 12s phased in first.
His comments came as tens of thousands of people signed a petition opposing any reopening of schools “before it is safe to do so”, after speculation that schools will reopen soon.
Earlier this week, the National Education Union (NEU) warned that an early return could result in an “increased risk” to school staff and children.
Mr Barton said: “I think across the teaching profession there is a level of anxiety about people running away with themselves in terms of when schools can open because it will be good for the economy.
“We need to be very cautious about it. But I think it is absolutely reasonable that we are starting to think about what it will look like when the day comes and we do start reintegrating children.”
The ASCL leader suggested that Year 6 pupils, who have not been able to say goodbye to primary school teachers and are worried about starting secondary school in the autumn, could be among those to return first.
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Norfolk headteachers have said there could be practical difficulties and that social distancing dozens of children was not feasible.
Dr Roger Harris, executive headteacher of North Walsham High School, said: “I would love the kids to be back as soon as possible but not at the risk to the health of our staff, parents and pupils. I’m led by government direction.”
Chris Snudden, director of learning and inclusion for Norfolk children’s services, praised the work of education staff and said: “When schools do fully reopen there needs to be a plan.”
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