Coronavirus: ‘Too soon’ for children to return to school, government warned

It is “too soon” for primary children to return to school when lockdown measures are relaxed from tomorrow, the government has been warned.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, also told Sky News the government has revised its plans to reopen schools 41 times since 12 May because of errors in judgement.

Ministers have claimed their five key tests required for the easing of lockdown have been met, with schools set to admit more pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from Monday.

The prerequisites for lockdown easing were: Ensuring the NHS can cope; a “sustained and consistent” fall in the daily death rate; the rate of infection decreasing to “manageable levels”; ensuring testing and PPE supplies can meet future demand; and ensuring any future adjustments would not risk a peak that could “overwhelm” the NHS.

Dr Bousted has argued the five tests have not been met and pointed out that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which advises the government on the coronavirus outbreak, agree with her.

Professor Peter Horby, chair of the New Emergency Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), along with fellow SAGE scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, said ministers are taking a risk by easing lockdown restrictions on Monday.

Dr Bousted told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that children should instead return to school on 15 June when the infection rate should be lower.

She continued: “We think tomorrow is too soon and we have made that argument very clearly for a number of weeks now, ever since Boris Johnson made his announcement on 10 May.

Dr Bousted added: “The government’s plans on reopening schools since they were first produced on 12 May have been changed 41 times.

“And that’s because they’ve constantly had to be revised as things they have forgotten, things they didn’t know, and things they got wrong had to be added in.

“That’s hugely added to the stresses of school leaders and teachers, because we have a government simply who they think is just making it up as it goes along.”

She added the government’s latest plans have “given up on social distancing in schools” by favouring “cohort distancing” where children are taught in groups of 15 by one teacher.

Dr Bousted warned: “Those children live in families who from tomorrow will be able to go out and socialise with other people.

“We’re asking them (the teachers) without PPE and without social distancing to go into schools, at a time when the rate of infection is still the fifth highest incidence in the world.

“And at a time when there is not a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system in place.”

She added that pupils should not be made to return to school throughout the summer holidays to catch up on missed classroom time, because teachers have been working “even harder” throughout the lockdown period.

Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed told Sophy Ridge that schools should not open in areas where it is not yet safe to do so.

Mr Reed said: “I’m saying the decisions need to be taken based on the circumstances of different areas.

“We want schools to open as soon as possible, because that is the best thing for children, but we don’t want schools to open in areas where it isn’t safe.”

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