Wednesday, February 21

Government urges June school return



Gavin Williamson says plans to reopen schools as part of the easing of lockdown are based on the best scientific advice, after councils and teaching unions criticised the move.

The education secretary told the daily Downing Street press conference on coronavirus children are at the heart of everything we do and said many would stand to lose out if schools remained closed for longer.

He added:  I know lots of you will be worried about sending your children to school. Every one of us wants the very best for our children and I know how stressful this time has been for families across the country.

Williamson said the government’s plan to begin a phased return from June 1 for young primary school pupils, as well as secondary pupils in years 10 and 12, was in line with steps taken by other European countries.

But teaching unions, as well as some local authorities and city mayors, said ministers were moving too quickly and putting staff and students at risk.

Williamson said:  There is a consequence to this, the longer that schools are closed the more that children miss out.

Teachers know that there are children out there that have not spoken or played with another child their own age for the last two months.

They know there are children from difficult or very unhappy homes for whom school is the happiest moment in their week, and it’s also the safest place for them to be.

Regarding testing and tracing, the cabinet minister added: School staff can already be tested for the virus, but from the first of June we’ll extend that to cover children and their families if any of them develop symptoms.

Together these measures will create an inherently safer system where the risk of transmission is substantially reduced for children, their teachers and also their families.

Asked why the government is not taking a regional approach to the reopening of schools, which could take account of local differences in infection rates, Williamson said it was being done in a very, very cautious and phased way.