Government making it up as it goes along on reopening schools, teaching union claims

Some primary children are due back in class from Monday Credit: Jacob King/PA

The government has revised its plans to reopen schools in England 41 times since May 12 because of errors in judgment, an education union leader has claimed.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), has added to calls for ministers to rethink the reopening of schools in England for some pupils on Monday.

Schools across the UK have been open throughout the lockdown for the children of key workers.

Scotland has said it will not reopen its schools to pupils until August at least, while Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to make announcements.

Ministers have said their five key tests required for the easing of lockdown have been met – and schools will admit pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from Monday.

Some schools have marked off tables to ensure pupils sit apart Credit: Jacob King/PA

The prerequisites for lockdown easing in England are:

  • Ensuring the NHS can cope

  • A “sustained and consistent” fall in the daily death rate

  • The rate of infection decreasing to “manageable levels”

  • Ensuring testing and PPE supplies can meet future demand

  • Ensuring any future adjustments would not risk a peak that could “overwhelm” the NHS

Ms Bousted argued the five tests have not been met, and she pointed out that members of Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory body, including Professor Peter Horby, have voiced the same opinion.

Prof Horby, chair of the New Emergency Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), along with fellow Sage scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, said ministers are taking a risk by easing lockdown restrictions on Monday.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge show on Sky News on Sunday, Ms Bousted said children should instead return to school on June 15 when the infection rate should be lower.

Currently in England, secondary schools plan to reopen for some face-to-face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils on June 15.

She said: “The Government’s plans on reopening schools since they were first produced on May 12 have been changed 41 times.

"And that’s because they’ve constantly had to be revised as things they have forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong had to be added in.

“That’s hugely added to the stresses of school leaders and teachers, because we have a Government simply who they think is just making it up as it goes along.”

New measures in schools will not see pupils sat side. Credit: PA

She added the Government’s latest plans have “given up on social distancing in schools” by favouring “cohort distancing” where children are taught in groups of 15 by one teacher.

She warned: “Those children live in families who from tomorrow will be able to go out and socialise with six other people.

“We’re asking them (the teachers) without PPE and without social distancing to go into schools, at a time when the rate of infection is still the fifth highest incidence in the world.

“And at a time when there is not a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system in place.”

She added that pupils should not be made to return to school throughout the summer holidays to catch up on missed classroom time, because teachers have been working “even harder” throughout the lockdown period.

Parents do not have to take their children to school if they are worried. Credit: PA

Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said schools need to be considered in a similar way to hospitals and care homes in terms of testing so that outbreaks can be quickly monitored and caught.

“What we want to be having is actually testing in schools,” she told Sophy Ridge.

“We need to be treating schools like how we’ve been treating hospitals and care homes.

"These are institutions that need to be monitored and teachers need to be tested, older students need to be tested.

"We don’t have yet those, you know, monitoring systems in place.”

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds warned that parents must not be put in a difficult position if they feel it is unsafe for them to send their children back to school.

Ms Dodds told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I think it is really important now that we enable people to take the right decisions around this.

“That if individual schools feel that they are not ready, that they are given the support so that they can get to the stage where they are ready.

“Also that if individual parents don’t feel that it is safe for their children that they are not put in a difficult position because of that.”

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed added that schools should not open in areas where it is not yet safe to do so.

Asked on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday whether schools should not be opening from Monday, Mr Reed said: “No, I’m saying the decisions need to be taken based on the circumstances of different areas.

“We want schools to open as soon as possible, because that is the best thing for children, but we don’t want schools to open in areas where it isn’t safe.”

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