UK Schools Chrona Virus Phased Re-Opening

  • Boris Johnson today says phased reopening of schools is ‘crucial’ for children
  • During an address to the nation, he says some schools will reopen on June 1
  • Mr Johnson says secondary schools will provide ‘some contact’ from June 15 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Schools in Britain will start to reopen on June 1, the government has today announced.

In a briefing to the nation this evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said some primary schools will open at the start of next month, with secondary schools to provide ‘some contact’ from 15 June.

Reception, year one and year six classes will be the first to return to primary schools on June 1, Mr Johnson confirmed.

It comes after weeks of wrangling between the government and teachers’ unions over coronavirus safety concerns.

It also came as the former head of Ofsted today blasted ministers for failing to convince parents it is safe to reopen schools on June 1 amid reports three-quarters will refuse to do so.

But today Mr Johnson said the government intended to push ahead with the phased reopening of schools, describing it as ‘crucial’ for children, while acknowledging it ‘may not be possible’ for all schools to reopen in the coming weeks.

In a briefing to the nation this evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) said some schools will open at the start of next month, with secondary schools to provide 'some contact' from 15 June

He said: ‘The education of children is crucial for their welfare, for their long-term future and for social justice.

‘In line with the approach being taken in many other countries, we want to start getting our children back into the classroom in a way that is as manageable and as safe as possible.

‘We said we would begin with early years’ settings and reception, year one, and year six in primary schools.

‘Today, I can announce it is our intention to go ahead with that as planned on June 1, a week on Monday.

‘We then intend from June 15 for secondary schools to provide some contact for year 10 and year 12 students to help them to prepare for exams next year, with up to a quarter of these students in at any point.’ 

The Prime Minister acknowledged it 'may not be possible' for all schools to reopen in the coming weeks

The move to re-open primary schools on June 1 and secondary schools on June 15 has raised questions from the Liberal Democrats who believe pupils are being rushed back.

The Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Layla Moran said: ‘Despite the concerns, the Prime Minister seems intent on rushing to bring schools back in a bid to distract from his scandal-hit spin doctor-in-chief.

‘The concession to give some secondary school children contact with their teachers from June 15 also highlights the failure to push down the R number.

‘The public deserve answers.’ 

The Prime Minister acknowledged that not all schools would be able to meet the re-opening dates for primary and secondary schools. 

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: ‘That the Prime Minister acknowledges that flexibility will not just be possible but will be necessary is to be welcomed.

The Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) said it is worrying that schools have had such little time to prepare to safely re-open. Pictured: A classroom at Slaithwaite C of E Junior and Infant School in Slaithwaite, Huddersfield, where desks have been spaced 2m apart

‘We will take the Prime Minister at his word that schools will be allowed to react to their own local situations and will not be forced into opening or penalised if proceeding with appropriate caution.’

However, the general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders (ASCL) Geoff Barton is worried about the time frame schools have to prepare to safely re-open. 

He said: ‘(The Government) has not communicated the rationale for its chosen approach well, and it left primary schools with little time to plan and implement safety protocols.’

‘It is also worrying that the government’s crucial test, trace, and isolate system is not yet in place and is unproven.’

He added: ‘It is doubtful that any part of the education sector has ever been asked to do so much in so little time.’    

 

Today the government released its plans for keeping school children safe from coronavirus including keeping the youngest children 3.5 metres apart and a queuing system for the school run. 

The main steps outlined in the guidance for teachers are:

  • Children under 2 years need 3.5 metres squared per child, two-year-olds need 2.5 metres squared per child , and children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 metres squared per child; 
  • Once children have returned make sure any surfaces touched are cleaned several times a day; 
  • Consider how you can keep small consistent groups of children together throughout the day;  
  • Staff will have to implement some kind of queuing system when picking up children, to limit contact with carers 
  • Dividers could help keep children in different parts of the room; Remove all soft toys or any toys that are hard to clean; 
  • To reduce the risk of infection ensure children with symptoms and staff who are symptomatic to not come in; 
  • Ensure social distancing of groups of children and staff as much as possible; Ensure hands are washed regularly throughout the day and children are observed doing so; 
  • Ensuring you have a good supply of disposable tissues throughout the setting to implement ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ ; 
  • Arrange for children to be collected at the door if possible; 
  • Limit visitors and keep windows open for ventilation; 
  • Institutions should have a policy in place for responding to a case of coronavirus  
Students form a long line to have their temperatures checked before entering class at Jeonmin High School in Daejeon, South Korea last week

The teachers’ union NASUWT suggested that no teacher or child should be expected to go back to schools until they are demonstrably safe. 

Meanwhile, the former head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, today backed the Government’s plan for a phased restart from next Monday, saying the UK risked creating a ‘lost generation’ due to the months’ long closure.

But he laid a large proportion of blame for the row over the controversial plans – bitterly opposed by teaching unions – at the door of Government ministers.

He said they had left it far too late to begin a campaign designed to convince parents them it was safe to restart, which should have begun almost as soon as schools closed in March.  

It came as reports suggested just a quarter of primary schools will heed calls to reopen for reception and years one and six pupils from a week on Monday.

Some 50 councils are believed to be ready to defy the Government’s instructions, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

Sir Michael told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday that ‘countries are opening up in Europe and so should we’.

But he added: ‘The government should have spent the past three months preparing the ground well, holding meetings with the teachers’ associations, parents associations and so on, to make sure that all the facts are there. Transparency is absolutely critical.

Sir Michael Wishaw backed the Government's plan for a phased restart from next Monday, saying the UK risked creating a 'lost generation' due to the months' long closure.
Councils that refuse to reopen primary schools next week risk causing 'lifelong damage' to some of the country's most deprived children, experts warned last night

‘Parents need something to go on to make that balanced judgement and I’m not sure they have received that.’

The announcement comes days after union chiefs  told teachers to demand detailed answers to at least 169 questions from their bosses on issues such as bin lids, coronavirus counselling and employing extra staff to clean paint brushes, scissors and glue sticks before agreeing to return to school.

 The National Education Union (NEU) said that it was still opposed to the June 1 date for primary schools set by the Prime Minister.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of NEU said: ‘We once again call on the Government to engage meaningfully with the education unions on these matters.

‘We stand ready to talk to the Government about how our five tests can be met and then how we can then proceed to a safe wider re-opening of schools.’

The NEU also told its 450,000 members to stop marking work and keep online tuition ‘to a minimum’ for any children still at home and not to try remote teaching if ‘they feel uncomfortable’ after going back to the classroom from next month. 

The NEU’s gigantic list of demands included mapped locations of lidded bins in classrooms and around the school, full health and safety risk assessments for leaving doors and windows open while teaching and also asks: ‘What arrangements are in place to keep every classroom supplied with tissues?’.

Other queries from the NEU include: ‘Have families been told to provide water bottles?’ and suggests grilling bosses about bringing in more staff specifically for washing ‘resources for painting, sticking and cutting before and after use’ in classrooms and an official policy on how often pupils will be reminded to catch coughs and sneezes with a tissue or elbow.  

The NEU’s safety checklist was previously hailed by many teachers.

But critics described the 22-page document as a ‘barrier’ to reopening primary schools in England from June 1 because it appears impossible to answer all the questions before then and may spook headteachers who fear their own staff could take them to court.

Schoolchildren wearing protective mouth masks and face shields back in class at Claude Debussy college in Angers, France, where 1.4million youngsters are back in class
Teaching Assistant Sarah Yates applies tape to the floor to define a 2m boundary around the teacher's workspace in Huddersfield as unions demand answers to hundreds of questions before teachers return

The guidance includes the line that it is ‘not be safe to mark children’s books’.

The National Education Union claims schools should make it clear that no marking should take place because of the risk of coronavirus.

It also says that library books should be regularly sanitised as part of a ‘workplace checklist’ for primaries.  

Referring to its 22-page checklist, it says: ‘The starting point for every component of the checklist is that it is checked NO until you and your colleagues determine it can be checked YES.

‘School staff will not be protected by social distancing rules nor, in most cases, will they be offered any personal protective equipment. If satisfactory answers are not forthcoming in all areas, then it will not be feasible or safe to extend opening until concerns are met.’

Among the questions the checklist poses are: ‘It will not be safe to mark children’s books during this period. Will clear instruction be given that no marking should take place and the books should not be taken to and from home/school?’ 

Earlier this week, Labour-run Bury council announced it would reject the Government’s timetable for sending children back to class, claiming they had taken the decision after a public consultation.

But it was later revealed the public consultation had more than 24 hours to run.

Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire has become the latest local authority to advise its schools against reopening on June 1 amid safety concerns.

Councillor Tim Swift, leader of the council, said: ‘Education plays a crucial role in making sure children have a good start in life, laying the foundations so that they are able to enjoy a long, healthy and fulfilling future.

‘However, the council has major concerns that the Government’s tests are not currently being met within Calderdale, and for this reason we are advising our schools against opening more widely on June 1.’

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden refused to rule out penalties for town halls that refuse to reopen schools from June 1.

UK officials earlier this week revealed how they hoped the evidence from other countries would reassure teachers.  

A source at the Department for Education said: ‘We looked closely at international examples when drawing up our plans for a phased return.

‘These initial findings from European countries are encouraging and suggest that our similarly cautious approach will minimise the risk of transmission.’  

British teachers are being urged to follow the lead of their French counterparts by going back to work and getting more than 1.4million children into class after two months in lockdown.

Ministers across the Channel have revealed that they have had 70 cases of coronavirus in 40,000 schools and nurseries in the past 11 days and none of the children or staff are seriously ill.

It came as parents have been told that when English schools reopen children still at home are unlikely to get any more online learning materials until September, when it is hoped all pupils will return.

Emmanuel Macron’s government agreed to open schools with their militant union chiefs having declared the country’s children must not be ‘the collateral victims’ of the coronavirus crisis.

The French Government feared that children and their futures would be damaged without school for two months
Students wait outside Cassignol College before returning and resuming classes in Bordeaux, France - any child over the age of 11 must wear a mask

The success of the back to school policy in France has been put down to a range of safeguards, including strict social distancing and use of masks, and will be examined closely in the UK where the Government is in an almighty battle with teaching unions over reopening schools in England on June 1.

And across the 20-plus EU states where schools are open again there has been no spike in cases with experts saying there is only a small risk to teachers, children and their families.

The chaos in the education system means that millions of parents remain in the dark over whether their children in reception, year 1 and year 6 will returning to school in just 13 days time.  

In France around a quarter of the nation’s school children have returned to class because they live in areas deemed less affected by the virus.

It was a similar story in Belgium where primary and secondary schools have been told to restart smaller classes of final-year pupils under strict social distancing rules.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, said there had been 70 cases of coronavirus in around 50 schools since reopening.

A total of 70 schools were closed as a result, to stop further infection. ‘This shows that our measures are as strict as we said they would be,’ he said.

Schools forced to shut included seven in the northern town of Roubaix, where just one boy was infected but was thought to have come into contact with pupils from other schools.

He also insisted that children who had picked up Covid-19 had not caught it inside schools, where rigorous health measures are being enforced.

Mr Blanquer added: ‘It is absolutely essential that our children are not the collateral victims of health conditions.’

A 57-page education ministry document has been handed to teachers explaining rules on social distancing.

The 96 ‘departements’, or regions, of the country were initially split into the green, yellow or red categories two weeks before lockdown was to be eased across France on May 11.

By the time this date arrived, the yellow regions were allocated to either a green or red category.

Green areas were allowed to reopen their primary schools on May 11, as well as ending some other lockdown restrictions, while red areas have had to keep schools closed.

Around 185,000 middle school pupils in green zones also went back to class yesterday. Unlike in nursery and primary schools, all staff and pupils must wear masks. 

How the does the UK government plan to keep teachers and children safe when schools reopen in June? 

These are the main steps set out in the guidance for teachers:

Preparing the premises

The government guidance published today stipulates that the first thing institutions should do is ensure the premises is ready to receive children safely.

The building should be checked if it has been out of use for a long time, and if it has been closed then schools should consider legionnaires checks.

Any activities should be reassessed in light of the coronavirus pandemic and once children have returned ‘all frequently touched surfaces, equipment, door handles, and toilets, used during the day, will need to be cleaned thoroughly several times a day.’  

Educators will have to consider how best to use the space of their premises ‘and how they can be best used to keep small, consistent groups of children together throughout the day, and to keep the groups apart from each other.’

The guidance adds: ‘Depending on the size and the layout of individual settings, consider how floor space, rooms and outdoor space can be organised to ensure physical distancing between staff and between groups of children, considering the early years foundation stage age-based space requirements.’

Children under 2 years need 3.5 metres squared per child, two-year-olds need 2.5 metres squared per child, and children aged 3 to 5 years need 2.3 metres squared per child.

It could be useful to utilise area dividers to keep children in different parts of the room or use floor markings to help staff keep track of different groups.

Area dividers may help to keep children in different parts of the room, and floor markings could be helpful in assisting staff with keeping groups apart. The use of communal spaces in settings should be managed to limit the amount of mixing between groups as much as possible.

The guidance adds: Public health advice is to remove all soft toys, and any toys that are hard to clean, such as those with intricate parts. Where practicable, remove soft furnishings, for example pillows, bean bags and rugs.’

Implement measures to reduce risk for staff and children

Schools and other premises where children are going to be learning or looked after should look at how to reduce possible transmission of coronavirus, the guidance says.

The new measures admit that children in early years are unlikely to keep two metres apart but there are a range of protective measures, these are:

ensure parents are advised to keep children with any symptoms at home; ensure staff who are symptomatic do not attend work; frequent hand cleaning and good respiratory hygiene practices; regular cleaning of settings; minimising contact and mixing

The guidance says that staff are encouraged to keep group sizes to a maximum of eight children and ‘to ensure that there are no more than 16 children in a group in early years settings.’

It is understood that children and staff in early years provision are unlikely to be two metres apart but that children and staff should mix in a ‘small consistent group’ and that ‘small group stays away from other groups.’

The new measures should ensure that:

Physical distancing between groups of children and staff as far as possible; that individual groups use the same area of a setting throughout the day as much as possible; that the sharing of toys and resources is reduced; that any toys or resources that are shared can be easily cleaned between different groups’ use

The guidance also states that children should take part in handwashing throughout the day and they should be supervised.

There should also be a number of disposable tissues to ‘implement ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’.

Enhanced clearing is a core mantra within the government measures and says that all surfaces touched by children, such as doors or doors, are cleaned more regularly than usual.

There should also be a clear policy on bringing toys or items from home and this should only be done if ‘absolutely essential’.

Staff will have to implement some kind of queuing system when picking up children, to limit contact with carers.

The guidance suggests that ‘for example by limiting drop off and pick up to one parent or carer per family and staggering timings.’

It adds: ‘Consider how you can use technology to communicate with parents and carers digitally, for example when providing handover information at the end of the day.’

Schools should also keep windows open as much as possible and limit the amount of visitors.

The guidance states that the vast majority of children and staff will not need PPE and that staff do not have to take the temperatures of children every day.

Reviewing staff for availability at work

There should be an audit that takes place on what staff are available to start work on June.

The guidance says that: ‘Anyone who is displaying coronavirus symptoms, or has displayed symptoms in the previous 7 days, or lives with someone who has displayed symptoms in the previous 14 days, should not attend work unless they have tested negative for coronavirus.’

A staff member who is clinically vulnerable is also advised not to attend school.

Agree a protocol for responding to a suspected case of coronavirus and ensure setting is prepared

A school’s sickness policy should be amended to reflect what to do if you have a case of suspected coronavirus.

The guidance states: ‘Anyone who begins to display coronavirus symptoms while in the setting should be sent home immediately and follow government guidelines on what to do if you or someone in your household develops symptoms.

‘If a child is waiting to be collected, they should be separated from their group and isolated with one member of staff if this is possible.

A facemask should be worn if a distance of 2 metres cannot be maintained from a child who is symptomatic and awaiting collection and if contact is necessary, then gloves, an apron and a facemask should be worn.

‘If a risk assessment determines there is a risk of splashing to the eyes, for example from coughing or spitting, then eye protection should also be worn.’

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