Minority of local councils set to comply with government plans to reopen schools
A mere 20 out of 99 English local authorities which participated in a BBC survey will advise schools to open their doors to more pupils from the government’s planned date of June 1.
68 of the councils surveyed said they could not guarantee that schools would reopen as planned for pupils in Reception, Year One and Year Six.
Out of these 68 councils, 15 are set to defy the government’s advice and will not encourage schools within their area to reopen.
Since late-March, schools in England have only opened their doors to vulnerable pupils and those who are the children of key workers. However, the government is targeting June 1 as a start date for a phased reopening of primary schools under its Covid-19 lockdown exit strategy.
Teachers’ unions and head teachers have been widely opposed to the plans amid concerns over safety and the difficulties around practising social distancing effectively.
Unions have suggested that local councils be given the final decision on when schools in their area may be allowed to reopen.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, has called for “local flexibility to determine when it is right for schools to open up to more pupils."
The Department for Education has said that getting children back into school as soon as possible is “important for their education and well-being”, adding that its plans to reopen schools are based fully on scientific advice and that it had been consulting with unions throughout.
There have been widespread calls for the government to publicise scientific advice justifying how schools can reopen safely, with ministers now poised to do so.
Yet, there is still only limited scientific evidence of how Covid-19 is transmitted among children, arousing concern that reopening schools could result in another peak of the virus.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has thus far been insistent over the safety of the government’s plans, but opposition from elsewhere is causing ministers to relax their stance.
Speaking on Wednesday, justice secretary Robert Buckland said that the concerns of head teachers and councils would be take into account and suggested that the government could ease up on reopening schools as early as the start of June, and that all schools may not begin to reopen simultaneously.
The governments within the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not outlined a target date for the reopening of schools thus far.