Daily Express

‘Keep schools closed... they’re breeding grounds for virus’

- By Sam Lister Deputy Political Editor

TEACHING unions in England have demanded that the Government drops plans to reopen schools next month.

Leaders are concerned that primary classrooms will be turned into a breeding ground for coronaviru­s – even though young children have so far been largely unaffected by the devastatin­g pandemic.

And Education Secretary Gavin Williamson admitted opening up schools again would be “challengin­g” but he insisted that the proposals are the right thing to do.

He said: “When you have medical and scientific advice that is saying it’s the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner, it seems then the right thing to do and the responsibl­e thing to do.”

Yet nine unions – representi­ng school leaders, teachers and support staff – accused the Government of showing a “lack of understand­ing” about the dangers.

And they called for it to “step back” from plans to reopen schools in England so soon.

A joint statement, released by the Trades Union Congress, warned that staff will “not be protected” by social distancing if primary schools reopen.

It added: “We call on the Government to step back from June 1 and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.

“We all want schools to reopen but that should happen only when it is safe to do so.

“The Government is showing a lack of understand­ing about the dangers of the spread of coronaviru­s within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.” Ministers want all primary pupils in England back in school for a month before the scheduled summer holidays.

The Government said it expects children to be able to return to nurseries, and for reception, year one and year six pupils to make the return to school at the start of the month.

Official guidelines state that the class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils and insist that lunch and break times must be staggered. But the unions fear staff will not be protected by social distancing rules.

Their concerns are “classrooms of four and five-year-olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmissi­on and spread”.

The TUC statement added: “We do not think that the Government should be posing this level of risk to our society.”

Reopening schools is a vital part of the Government plans to gradually restart the economy as it will allow parents with young children to return to work.

But ministers are also particular­ly keen to fire up the education system swiftly amid worries that disadvanta­ged children are suffering the most through the lockdown restrictio­ns due to a general lack of home schooling.

Mr Williamson said: “The reason we are bringing schools back is we know that children benefit from being educated by their brilliant teachers in front of them.

“We recognise children from the most disadvanta­ged background­s are the ones who are going to suffer the most if we do not bring schools back when we are able to do so.”

The Education Secretary added that he is looking “very closely” at proposals for summer school catchup tuition.

 ??  ?? Pupils aged 3 and 4 in France separated in chalk squares
Pupils aged 3 and 4 in France separated in chalk squares
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