Schools were closed to most pupils on Friday 20 March as part of the Government's coronavirus lockdown restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Schools have only remained open for vulnerable children and for the children of key workers.
The Government had come under heavy criticism for not closing schools sooner – the UK was the last country in western Europe to do so and a petition signed by over half a million people was raised before the decision to close schools was finally taken.
Subsequently, and in line with studies undertaken for previous pandemics elsewhere around the world, a report by the University of East Anglia has shown the closure of our schools to have been one of the most effective measures in fighting coronavirus in the UK.
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As part of his modification of lockdown restrictions first announced last Sunday evening in a televised address to the nation, Boris Johnson said that Year one and Year six of Primary Schools could return as soon as 1 June.
We asked the former deputy head of The Royal Latin School in Buckingham, Edward Grimsdale, what he thinks about the prospect of pupils and staff returning in 19 days time. He told us: “It's impossible to think they're going to be ready on 1 June to deliver the curriculum while keeping staff and pupils safe. It's unfortunate but it has to be said."
“It's a really impossible task for teachers to cope with all the pupils in an environment that is designed to bring people together for learning. Group work is the basis for modern learning.”
Ominously, the chemistry teacher of nearly 40 years added: “Every time a new term starts, within ten days you've got five or six of your staff who are ill because they've picked up the latest thing that the kids have brought to school. I know each time I went back to school within a fortnight I'd have a cold. Kids are the best vectors around."
A current headteacher of a school in Kent has gone viral online after writing the following in an email to parents: "We have no plans sent by the government before the announcement last night. No doubt they will arrive this week suggesting social distancing, less pupils in school, splitting them up, staggered lunches and drop offs etc. I can be truthful here and categorically tell you there is no such thing as social distancing in a school.”
They concluded: “There is just the possibility that things will be ok. That's all we have at the moment and 'ok' is not good enough when it comes to the precious gift that is your child."
We asked Buckinghamshire Council what information they had received and what is being done to keep children and staff safe.
Anita Cranmer, Buckinghamshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said: “On Monday evening, the government issued guidance for education and childcare settings on actions they should take to prepare for a phased re-opening to Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils from 1 June 2020. Further guidance is expected from the government ahead of the re-opening date.
“We are reviewing this guidance to determine what it means for Buckinghamshire education and childcare settings, and are working to prepare our own detailed local guidance to support our schools to be prepared and ready to welcome pupils back in a controlled and safe manner.”
Councillor Robin Stuchbury, who sits on the Children's and Education Select Committee, responded: “I’m encouraged that the Cabinet member is seeking to act responsibly, though I’m concerned that a statement has been made to return Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children to school by the government without giving the local authority all the information to support this decision.
“As the Cabinet member states, we are waiting for further information. Buckinghamshire parents will need a complete breakdown of the science supporting the decision in advance of their children returning to school, and teachers receiving children back into the classroom will need proper guidance.
“As a councillor on the Children’s and Education select committee, I’m looking forward to reading the information supporting the decision.”
Regarding the decision to re-open schools in England in June, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I cannot and should not comment on whether that is appropriate for England but I do know, looking at the evidence I have now, I could not put my hand on my heart and say that would be a safe thing to do in Scotland.”
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has ruled out opening schools in June, saying: "We're not going to be reopening schools in Wales in the next three weeks, or indeed in June."
If you are a parent or teacher please share your thoughts on schools re-opening in June. Email: [email protected]