Coronavirus: 4 in 10 primary schools did not take more pupils on June 1, says NEU

More than four in 10 primary schools ignored government pleas to reopen more widely to pupils on Monday, England’s largest teaching union has said.

A survey of National Education Union members representing almost 11,000 primary and all-through schools found that 44 per cent reported their school opted to remain open only to vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers on June 1.

Prime minister Boris Johnson previously set out plans for a phased reopening of schools which would see pupils in reception, year 1 and year 6 return to schools from Monday this week.

However, teaching and support staff unions have warned it is too soon for children to return safely, and called on leaders to delay their plans.

Thirty-five per cent of NEU members said their school opened as instructed by the government on Monday, while a further 21 per cent said theirs did open more widely, but not to the extent requested by the government.

However, leadership unions have reported that some schools delayed the wider return of pupils by a few days, in order to familiarise staff with the new regime.

This is reflected in findings from Teacher Tapp, which show that although just 26 per cent of state primary teachers reporting that their schools opened more widely on Monday, a further 15 per cent said their school would reopen to more pupils yesterday, and 12 per cent said they would reopen between today and Friday.

Twenty-eight per cent said they wouldn’t reopen to more pupils until next week, while 10 per cent plan to wait until the week commencing June 15.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said it was “always reckless of Boris Johnson to set an arbitrary date and expect schools to fall in line”.

“Heads and their staff know far more about their individual challenges than Whitehall ever will.”

The NEU said its survey also showed a regional variation in school reopening approach, with around half of schools in the East of England, south east and south west reopened to eligible year groups this week, compared with 12 per cent in the north east and just 8 per cent in the north west.

Teacher Tapp also found variations by region, with lower rates in Yorkshire and the north east and the north west showing in its findings.

“As the regional variation according to Coronavirus levels show, schools are listening to the science rather than politicians,” said Courtney.

“This disconnect should be a wake-up call for government. Not only is the safety of the government’s plan in question but also the feasibility of it and confidence of headteachers in what the prime minister requested.”