Prime minister Boris Johnson has promised he will set out a “comprehensive plan” next week to explain how “we can get our children back to school”.
Johnson, speaking at the daily briefing today, said that “for the first time we are past the peak of this disease. We’re on the downward slope.”
He added: “I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, how we can get our children back to school, back into childcare and third how we can travel to work and make life in the work place safer.”
It comes as education secretary Gavin Williamson said pupils are expected to return to school “in phases”. But he reiterated to the education select committee that no date for reopening had been set.
Schools have been closed by the Covid-19 outbreak since March 20 to all but a small number of vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
Data released by the Department for Education this week shows attendance rose to 1.9 per cent (177,000 pupils) last Wednesday, following rates as low as 0.9 per cent during the Easter holidays.
Reports about the end of social distancing and conflicting messages in the press about the lockdown have increased pressure on the government.
Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, said he was concerned about growing inequalities between disadvantaged pupils and their better-off peers.
A research review by academics at the University of Exeter and London School of Economics found school closures could leave disadvantaged children with a “learning loss” of up to six months. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership, backed by 55 MPs and peers, has called for a “catch-up premium” for disadvantaged pupils once the lockdown lifts.
However, unions say schools must not reopen until it is safe.
It follows warnings from Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the government deputy chief medical officer, that it would be “very difficult” to maintain social distancing of young pupils.
A YouGov poll revealed that 44 per cent of teachers were stressed and anxious about what might happen during the summer term, while 46 per cent were worried about the new school year.
Earlier this week the government’s top medical expert warned that reopening schools too early could increase the spread of infection.
Professor Chris Whitty said that although school closures were “only one” of the government’s measures, it still had an impact on the infection rate or “R-value” of the virus.
“If you close schools, the R goes down. It’s part of the collection of things that were done in March to try to pull the R from where it was, near 3, to where it is now, below 1.
“It’s only one of [the measures]. If you did it on its own it wouldn’t be enough, but if you stop doing it, you would actually lose some of the benefit that we’ve currently got.”