Michael Gove defends Government’s plans to reopen primary schools in England from June

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has defended the Government’s plans to begin reopening primary schools in England from next month.

He said measures were being put in place to ensure the safety of children and teachers as they returned adding there was "clear scientific and clinical advice" that it was "safe" to schools to reopen with social distancing.

“We want to proceed in a balanced way to ensure the children have the opportunity to be back in school, to benefit from learning and, as a result, to ensure that their future can be more secure,” he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

The Government expects children to be able to return to nurseries and childcare settings, and for reception, year one and year six pupils to be back in school, from June 1 at the earliest.

The Government expects children to return to school from June 1. Credit: PA

But teachers’ unions called for more answers from the Government over whether children and staff will be safe if schools reopen in England, while the chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) said the Government should not consider reopening schools in England until the case numbers are “much lower”.

Despite the concerns, the former education secretary insisted that other countries had succeeded in returning children safety to school.

"The nature of what happens in the classroom has changed," he said.

“Instead of children working around the table they are sitting at desks separate from each other and, as a result, they are able to learn, they are able to benefit from being in school.

“We recognise this requires careful working with teachers. But the leaders of some of the country’s very, very best schools have said they can that they can ensure that children and teachers and other workers are safe.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has stood firm on reopening of schools despite fierce criticism. Credit: PA

In an interview with BBC 1's The Andrew Marr Show, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO) said evidence from countries where schools have remained open suggest that this has not led to large outbreaks of Covid-19.

She said: “What we have seen in countries where schools have remained open is that there have not been big outbreaks in schools, and where there have been it’s been associated with events – where a lot of people gather, not in regular classrooms, and it’s often been associated with an adult who's had the infection and has spread it.”

Mr Gove also admitted there are “big lessons” to be learned from the treatment of care homes during the coronavirus outbreak in an interview on BBC 1's The Andrew Marr Show.

He said the Government had taken “significant steps” to improve the situation of those in care homes but acknowledged the situation remained a “challenge”.

“We are still living through this pandemic and there will be lessons to be learned. We have taken significant steps to improve the care of people in care homes," Mr Gove said.

“There will be a point in the future when all of us can look back and reflect and make sure we have learned the appropriate lessons.

“At the moment, we are focused on making sure we beat the virus and protect people as effectively as possible.”