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Schools will not open to all before summer break

Plans to re-open schools to all pupils for a month before the summer holiday have been scrapped by the government, it has emerged.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, said it was “inevitable” that plans for all pupils to return to school would be unworkable given the government’s guidance for schools to adhere to.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “This cautious phased return is the most sensible course of action to take. While we are not able to welcome all primary children back for a full month before the summer, we continue to work with the sector on the next steps where we’d like to see schools who have the capacity to bring back more children and those smaller class sizes to do so if they are able to do before the summer holidays.”

“We will be working to bring all children back to school in September,” he added.

Schools closed on 20 March for all pupils apart from vulnerable children known to children's services and the children of key workers.

Mr Williamson said some students who will be due to take exams in 2021 will have experienced “considerable disruption” to their education this year, but the government is committed to “doing all they can to minimise the effects of this”.

Exams will take place next year and the government is working with Ofqual and exam boards on their approach to this.

“While these are small steps, they are the best way to ensure all children can get back into the classrooms as soon as possible,” said Mr Williamson.

Dr Mary Bousted said the NEU wanted schools to open, to all children, but safely. “Given the government’s own guidelines, which of course we have to follow, and the procedures around social distancing and deep cleaning in schools, all the guidance that schools have to follow, it was never the case given the scale of the pandemic that they could accommodate all their pupils with the current guidelines in place.”

In terms of schools returning in September Dr Bousted said she hoped by then the ‘R’ rate would be lower across the UK and hopefully cases would subside. If not, England should learn from the Scottish approach where there is a national plan in place, she said, for a combination of learning in school, at home, distance learning and online learning and to ensure that vulnerable children are encouraged to attend school and have access to the internet. Schools should also look at utilising other school building such as libraries to extend premises for learning.

However, if there is a second spike, education cannot simply stop again, she concluded.

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