Thousands of schools are poised to ignore trade union ‘scaremongering’ and welcome children back full-time from next month, a Daily Mail audit has found.
Town halls across England have worked with schools to draw up detailed plans on how to keep pupils and staff safe and have overwhelmingly pledged a return to a form of normality by the end of September.
The confidence is in stark contrast to the pessimistic tones of education unions but echoes government pledges to get pupils back in the classroom as quickly as possible.
However, concerns have been raised about a lack of clarity on what schools should do in the event of further local, or national, lockdowns, with some pledging to remain open and others warning of immediate closures.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused Unions of ‘scaremongering’ and insisted a return to schools would be safe
The Daily Mail contacted more than 50 local councils with responsibility for state schools in their area. Of the 19 that responded in detail – representing almost 3,000 schools – all but one pledged to have children back in full-time education by the end of next month. Councils said risk assessments have been undertaken and safety measures will include teaching in class and year-group bubbles, staggered lunch breaks and one-way systems in school buildings.
For example, in the Cheshire East area around 170 schools will welcome pupils back next month. And in Leicester, which has already been subject to a local lockdown, a council spokesman said ‘almost all’ schools intend to have all pupils in class by September 4.
Unions have insisted that more research needs to be done before pupils head back to the classroom. But in May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson accused them of ‘scaremongering’ and insisted a return would be safe.
Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee said: ‘This audit has shown the attitude from schools and teachers is that if it’s not impossible there must be a way to do it’
This week, he said a return carried few risks, citing an unpublished Public Health England study, only for reports to emerge that there may be a difference in virus transmission between primary and secondary school children.
But official PHE guidance continues to advise that there is little evidence of schools driving coronavirus infections in local communities.
The National Education Union has drawn up a list of 200 safety demands before schools return – and urged teachers to ‘escalate’ matters if concerns are not addressed. But critics described the demands as ‘nit-picking’.
Commenting on the Mail’s findings, Tory MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said: ‘If you were to solely listen to the unions you would think the return to school full-time was impossible, but this audit has shown the attitude from schools and teachers is that if it’s not impossible there must be a way to do it.’