Union chiefs say June school return talks are 'very premature'

Now is not the time to discuss schools going back! Unions say it’s ‘premature’ to even talk about teachers and pupils starting classes again on June 1 until government can prove it will be safe

  • Bosses at UK’s largest education union warn government not to ‘rush’ decision
  • National Education Union (NEU) chiefs say talks of June reopening ‘premature’
  • Boris Johnson is hoping to put teachers on notice to re-open primary schools
  • Arts students might be last to return to university when term starts in autumn  
  • Whitehall sources claim the earliest possible return will help parents get to work
  • Move also intended to prevent damage being done to ‘early years development’ 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Union chiefs have today hit out at reports that the government could look to re-open primary schools in England as early as June 1 and warned decision makers they face losing the confidence of head teachers and staff if plans are rushed. 

Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Education Union, the largest teachers’ trade union for England and Wales, says talks about a June re-opening are ‘very premature’.

It comes as reports suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to put teachers on three weeks’ notice to re-open the country’s primary schools, which have been closed since March following the outbreak of coronavirus.

He told the Sun on Sunday that he wants primary schools reopened ‘as fast as we can’.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman today backed the plans to get younger children back into schools, saying there is a ‘great deal of logic’ in such a move. 

But Mr Courtney, whose union has more than 460,000 members, has warned the government against ‘rushing’ its decision and urged decision markers to put the health of teachers and staff first.

Reports suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to put teachers on three weeks’ notice to re-open primary schools in England to all pupils as soon as next month. Schools have been closed to the majority of students following the outbreak of coronavirus

Kevin Courtney (pictured left), General Secretary of the National Education Union, the largest teachers’ trade union for England and Wales, says talks about a June re-opening are ‘very premature’. But Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman (pictured right) says there is a ‘great deal of logic’ in targeting younger children to return to the classroom

He told MailOnline: ‘While we all want to see a return to some sort of normality the National Education Union believes it’s really premature to talk about a June return date.

‘Instead the government should be providing evidence about how this can be safe, how many more fatalities would we expect to see amongst school staff and parents and how these can be prevented or minimised.’   

He added: ‘If the government proceeds in this sort of way it is will fail to get the confidence of heads, staff and parents.’

Union chiefs added that a petition calling for evidence-based proposals for a return to school had been signed more than 200,000 times.  

Whitehall officials believe the earliest possible return of primary schoolchildren is intended to help parents to return to work, according to reports.

It will also prevent damage being done to ‘early years development’ about which Gavin Williamson has warned, according to The Sunday Telegraph. 

After primary school students, pupils from Years 10 and 12 would be the first secondary school students to return, provided ministers were satisfied the transmission rate did not cause a ‘second peak’. 

Meanwhile arts students could be the last to return to universities, after students of medicine, dentistry and veterinary science in the autumn. 

Thirty-three universities with medical schools, including Oxford and Cambridge, are backing a contingency plan to fast-track undergraduates studying key science subjects back to campus for classes, according to The Sunday Times. 

Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman today backed the plans, saying there is a ‘great deal of logic’ in targeting younger children to return to the classroom.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, she said ‘normality’ for younger children is important, saying that the younger they are ‘the more they need routine’.

Britons will be allowed to drive to the countryside for walks and picnics in the first stage of relaxing lockdown

Ministers are preparing to lift restrictions on outdoor activities such as picnics as the first stage in relaxing the lockdown rules.

The Mail on Sunday understands the plans – likely to be introduced later this month if coronavirus infection rates continue to fall – will mean people can exercise several times each day and drive to the countryside and other outdoor spaces for walks and picnics.

However, they will only be allowed to do so with members of their household and must stay at least two metres (6ft 6in) away from other groups.

The change, which will end the sight of police officers moving on solitary sunbathers in parks, follows new scientific advice to ministers that the risk of transmitting the disease outside is substantially lower than indoors.

But people will still be barred from areas such as playgrounds and beaches where crowds congregate and the two-metre rule becomes harder to observe.

From parents’ point of view it is logical for younger pupils to be in school she added, as they tend to need more ‘care and oversight’.

‘Ms Spielman also suggested that there could be a ‘mixed economy’ for ‘some while’ with some youngsters in school and others still learning at home.

The move is being considered as data show that younger children are potentially less likely to transmit Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.   

One source said it was ‘crucial for economic reasons’ to ‘get things moving, but also for educational reasons’, adding ‘early years development is very important’.

Secondary school pupils ‘can do a lot more at home and online’, they told The Sunday Telegraph, and are ‘not as pressing as primary schoolchildren’.  

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: ‘Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has not set a date for schools reopening.

‘Schools will remain closed, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, until the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to reopen and the five tests set out by Government to beat this virus have been met.’   

Meanwhile, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said schools in Wales could reopen at the beginning of next month. 

Speaking today on BBC’s Andew Marr Show, he said: ‘Our advice from the trade unions and from the local education authorities is that you will need three weeks as a minimum from the point that we decide to do that, to when schools can reopen, so we are talking about the beginning of June.’

Mr Drakeford said some groups could return earlier than others, using the examples of year-six children who are due to move up to secondary school, and Welsh medium pupils who may not have had opportunities to use the language at home during lockdown.

Boris Johnson (pictured chairing his first digital Cabinet since being admitted to hospital and the birth of his son) is hoping to put teachers on notice to re-open primary schools in England

The talks comes amid another raft of coronavirus developments yesterday:

  • The UK death toll rose by 621 to 28,131, but the Government said it had again reached its target of 100,000 daily tests;
  • Headteachers are being asked about how to phase in a return to school, starting with about 20 per cent of pupils attending from June;
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Sun on Sunday ‘you don’t want coronavirus’ as he spoke openly about his personal battle with Covid-19 
  • Donations to the Mail Force campaign to deliver safety equipment to NHS and care home staff passed £5 million;
  • Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a £76 million package to help charities tackle domestic abuse, help vulnerable children and fight modern slavery;
  • Care homes warned of a deepening crisis and said the true death toll inside them may never be known;
  • The Government accused the BBC of bias in some of its Covid-19 coverage;
  • A new intelligence dossier circulated among Western governments accused Beijing of lying about the origins of the virus and persecuting whistleblowers;
  • Universities have been targeted by Russian and Iranian hackers hunting secrets about coronavirus treatment research;
  • A survey by the Mail on Sunday found lockdown had made couples less likely to split up;

The discussions also come after Mr Williams told the education select committee this week that schools would not reopen opening during the summer holidays as a way of helping pupils who have missed out on education to catch up.

Boris Johnson promises new ‘road map’ to get the country out of coronavirus lockdown 

 Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a new road map to get Britain out of coronavirus lockdown.

Addressing the public from behind the podium for the first time in five weeks, after his own personal battle with Covid-19, Mr Johnson said he did not want to ‘protract’ the lockdown any further and the government is working on ‘ingenious’ solutions to get the economy running.

Mr Johnson said: ‘What you are going to get next week is really a road map, a menu of options – the dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic.’

The Government is also expected to issue formal guidance next week advising that face masks should be worn to work.

Government officials had previously suggested a ‘traffic light’ system, which would give schools, clothes shops and garden centres the ‘green light’ to open soon, followed by a second ‘amber’ stage later in the summer, which would see more of the economy revived.

On red are pubs, bars and sporting events, while the over-70s could face restrictions for many months more, the government has suggested.

The education secretary also suggested a phased return to schools, saying it was ‘not realistic or practical’ for all school children to return in one day.

He said scientists were looking at other countries for best practice and that a special team of the Scientific Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had been set up to focus solely on schools reopening. 

Last month, Mr Williams praised parents for dealing with home-schooling children during the lockdown.

Speaking in a press conference, he said: ‘I recognise all the challenges that families will be facing at the moment.

‘We are determined to support parents who are helping their children learn from home.

‘I think we all know how difficult that can be.’

The praise came after a study found only two in five parents felt confident about teaching their children at home.

As reported in the Metro, a poll by education charity, Sutton Trust, showed 47 per cent of middle-class parents say they feel confident homeschooling, and just 37 per cent of working-class parents say they feel the same way. 

Last month it was announced that frazzled parents struggling to home-school their children during the coronarvirus pandemic are to be offered support through a new national helpline.

Named ‘StarLine’, the service will offer advice to families on how to educate their children at homes while schools are closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

The service, launched by a coalition of academy trusts and parenting groups, including Star Academies and Mumsnet, will also provide advice to parents on how to deal with difficult behaviour.

Named ‘StarLine’, the service will offer advice to families on how to educate their children at homes while schools are closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Pictured: a child being educated at home (stock image)

Mr Williamson praised the project, which will be entirely self-funded as an ‘inspiring example of teachers and education experts working together to share their knowledge, resources and expertise’.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, who in the Sun today described his battle with coronavirus as a ‘tough old moment’, is expected to review the lockdown on Thursday.

‘Discriminatory’ lockdown should be eased for the healthy elderly, say senior doctors

Senior doctors have warned Boris Johnson the lockdown should be eased for over-70s that are considered healthy, due to the damage keeping them inside is doing to their mental health.

Both the Royal College of GPs and the British Medical Association (BMA) weighed in to say that age alone should not be the determining factor when the government establishes who can return to their daily lives as the lockdown is eased, potentially in the coming weeks and months.

Around 1.8 million people classed as ‘clinically vulnerable’ were told to stay indoors for 12 weeks when the lockdown began as they were considered to be the most at-risk people in the UK from Covid-19.

Some ministers have even suggested that such groups could have to stay at home until a vaccine has been developed, which could well take a year or more.

The Prime Minister, who also warned Britons ‘you don’t wait it (coronavirus)’ during the interview, is also likely to unveil the Government’s so-called ‘exit strategy’ next weekend. 

It is understood the plans will include easing curtailments on outdoor activities such as picnics, though the public will have to follow social distancing rules.

The move towards normality will be accompanied by harsher enforcement of the remaining rules, with fines for repeat offenders rising to £3,000. 

However, the review is not expected to lead to more substantial changes until June, when public transport is likely to return to normal levels. 

Non-food retailers, factories, warehouses and more construction sites will be encouraged to open, while offices expected to instruct most of their staff to continue working from home where it is possible.

Pubs and restaurants are likely to remain closed for weeks or even months longer. 

Asked about relaxing restrictions on outdoor activities in Britain, a senior Government source said: ‘Thanks to the huge efforts of the British public we are past the peak of the virus without the NHS having been overwhelmed.

‘Now we can start to look at which elements of the social distancing rules can be adjusted while keeping the rate of transmission down, so we are looking at how to lift everyone’s spirits by allowing the public to get into the great outdoors.’

While relaxing some measures, ministers plan to ‘come down hard’ on ‘hotspots’ where infection rates rise.

Fines for breaching coronavirus rules are expected to be increased to £100 and keep on double for any repeat offence up to a maximum £3,200 for serial offenders, who could also face arrest. 

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