Schools will reopen in ‘phased manner’, but not over summer holidays
PUBLISHED: 13:47 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 06:52 30 April 2020
Schools are set to reopen to children in a “phased manner” after the Covid-19 lockdown, the Education Secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson said the Government did not have a fixed date for reopening schools but ruled out the prospect of them opening over the summer holidays.
He told MPs: “I do expect schools to be opened in a phased manner. I also intend to be giving schools as much notice as possible.”
Schools, colleges and nurseries 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.
Addressing the Education Select Committee, Mr Williamson said: “We recognise that the idea of schools all returning on day one with the full complement of pupils is not realistic or practical.”
He did not say which year groups could return first, but he said they were looking at best practice in other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, where schools had begun to reopen.
The minister added that there was no plan to “run schools through the summer”.
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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, recently said the earliest realistic date for schools to reopen is June 1.
He has warned “planning would need to begin very soon” in order to meet that target.
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”, with concerns over staff safety.
When asked whether the Government would update its guidance on Personal Protective Equipment and social distancing in schools to ensure teachers were kept safe, Mr Williamson suggested they may review advice when a phased return of schools began.
He said: “It is incredibly important that we get the right balance in terms of actually making sure that we create an environment that is good to learn in but also that is a safe environment for people to both work in and learn in as well.”
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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 the 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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