Schools to be reopened in "phased manner", education secretary says
Education secretary Gavin Williamson informed the Education Select Committee that the reopening of schools in England is likely to come in phases.
Williamson said that the date of reopening would depend of scientific advice but reassured that schools would receive “as much notice as possible”.
He also warned that only some year groups of pupils may be able to return initially.
Williamson said: "All schools returning on day one with a full complement of pupils would not be realistic.”
In a video conference session, the education secretary was taking questions from MPs on the committee concerning a timetable for reopening schools.
Williamson said: "Every child is going to have suffered from not being in school.
"When we bring schools back - and I think everyone wants to see schools returning - they will return in a phased manner.”
Williamson stopped short of giving details on which year groups of pupils may be able to return to school first, but said that the timetabling will come under a wider, cross-government plan, containing input from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] to ensure schools are reopened safely.
He told MPs that he did not expect the current school term to be extended into the summer holidays.
Geoff Barton, who heads the ASCL head teachers' union suggested last week that Years 6, 10 and 12 could return first, with June 1 the earliest realistic date for reopening, adding that a limit on the numbers of pupils attending school would need to be enforced to adhere to social distancing.
Dr Mary Bousted, the joint leader of the National Education Union, warned that staffing could also be an issue upon schools being able to reopen.
Dr Bousted said: "All staff with underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable will still need to be at home so timetables will be tricky and the full curriculum simply impossible.
"We will need an extended, flexible recovery plan, and no one should be under any illusion that there is some catch-up magic bullet."
Williamson also faced questions about how to support disadvantaged pupils while learning is being delivered remotely.
Conservative MP for Harrow Robert Halfon, the committee chair, said that the lockdown could bring about a “wave of educational poverty”.
To help make online learning more accessible for disadvantaged pupils at home, Williamson offered further details of a government initiative to lend 200,000 laptops to households and close the “digital divide” in access to computers. The first of these are expected to be delivered by the end of May, with further deliveries running into June.
Williamson also said that he had been holding talks with the BBC about the possibility of putting school programmes on television, which would make learning accessible to those without internet access.