Teachers unions to meet scientific advisers over June 1 reopening plan
Teachers’ unions will meet with the government’s scientific advisers on Friday to ensure that plans to reopen schools in England from June 1 can be carried out safely.
The meeting has been called amid concerns that it will be difficult to properly practise social distancing in schools.
Meanwhile, others have questioned whether school staff should be provided with personal protective equipment as they return to work.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson wrote in the Daily Mail that the reopening of schools would be a “controlled and careful return” carried out in phases.
Williamson added: "All of us in education have a duty to work together to get children back to school. The safety of children and their teachers is my number one priority."
Nine trade unions have issued a joint statement urging the government to ease off on pushing for schools to reopen in June, saying it is not safe to do so.
The NASUWT teachers’ union was one of them. Its general secretary Patrick Roach echoed Williamson’s words that the "primary consideration” had to be the “health and safety of teachers and pupils".
Roach said: "We want schools to be able to reopen only when they can demonstrate that it is safe to do so.”
Unions have also called on the Department for Education to publish the scientific advice, informing schools how they can be expected to reopen and operate safely.
Geoff Barton, who heads the ASCL head teachers’ union, said: "It is important to understand that we're not trying to impede the reopening of schools. We very much want to see children back in classrooms.
"But we have always said that the time must be right, and there must be a clear, and robust set of guidance which ensures that this can be done in a way which is safe."
The Local Government Association also wants local authorities to be given the right to close schools and nurseries within their area should localised outbreaks of Covid-19 become obvious.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis has suggested that social distancing in schools is practical, suggesting that it could help educate pupils about hygiene.
Lewis said: "I know the education secretary and his team are talking continually to the unions and to teachers directly as well around making sure that we've got a good, safe environment."
Elsewhere in the UK, the other three constituent countries appear to have abandoned the prospect of reopening schools as early as June.
In Northern Ireland, education minister Peter Weir has said that a phased reopening of schools could happen in September, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has already confirmed that schools in Wales will not reopen on June 1 in line with England’s plans, while Scottish schools are not expected to be open again prior to the summer holidays.