Coronavirus: Reopen schools before summer if possible, say leadership unions


Unions representing school leaders across England are lobbying the government to reopen schools for a “limited period” before the summer holidays if scientific advice says it is safe to do so.

Once the scientific advice is that schools can return safely, they should do so, even if it’s for a very limited period before the summer break

The Department for Education is said to have shown a “genuine interest” in an approach that would see pupils return for a number of weeks during the summer term to “reacquaint themselves with the educational environment”.

Ministers and advisers have said it is too soon to consider reopening schools, following speculation that pupils could return as soon as April 20.

But Paul Whiteman and Geoff Barton, the general secretaries of the NAHT and ASCL unions, told Schools Week they had told the DfE that pupils would benefit if schools reopen before the summer, rather than waiting until September.

“We haven’t seen any indication yet that the requirements of social distancing are such that things will change for schools in the short-term,” said Whiteman.

“That said, once the scientific advice is that schools can return safely, they should do so, even if it’s for a very limited period before the summer break, as this will allow young people to reacquaint themselves with the educational environment.”

But Whiteman warned that any return to normality “has to be a planned one”.

“It can’t be about flicking a switch on a Friday night and then thinking it’s all going to be alright on a Monday morning.”

Barton also warned against a rush to reopen schools, and dismissed speculation that schools could reopen after Easter.

“What we don’t want to do is spook people into thinking schools will be opening in a week’s time, but we do need to start thinking about what it would look like if we get children back for a few weeks in the summer term,” he said.

Schools have been closed to all but the most vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers since March 20

The government has said they will remain closed “until further notice”, but as the country neared the end of its third week on lockdown, speculation has mounted that schools could reopen sooner rather than later.

However, ministers have said that it is still too early to lift the restrictions put in place last month because it is not yet clear what effect they have had on the spread of the virus

Barton told Schools Week it was important for the schools community to consider how it might deal with the return of pupils, and the benefits a return before summer might have for certain groups.

For example, year 6 pupils worrying about their transition to secondary school could be supported, and year 10s with concerns about next year’s GCSEs could be reassured.

“I feel, quite viscerally really, that if the public health experts indicate that schools can return before the summer holidays, even for two weeks, there will be a sense of educational rebirth, of bringing young people back together.

“We need to think about how you do that, but I think there would be something incredibly cathartic about it.”

Barton said he had raised the idea with the DfE, “and there’s a genuine interest in what that would look like in practice”.

“Of course, it won’t happen if the public health experts say the timing isn’t right, but it’s something to start thinking about.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the new shadow education secretary, has also written to education secretary Gavin Williamson with questions about how the return of pupils to schools will be managed.

Rebecca Long Bailey

Long-Bailey, who replaced Angela Rayner earlier this week, asked how the DfE will support support disadvantaged pupils, “who may have fallen further behind”.

She also demanded to know what steps will be taken “to ensure that pupils currently in year 10 and year 12 are not adversely affected when they sit national qualifications in the next academic year”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and the children who are most vulnerable. We will re-open schools when the scientific advice indicates it is safe to do so.”

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  1. Mark Watson

    Sorry, do these union titans think that the Government would NOT reopen schools if told it was safe to do so? Given schools are being funded the same whether they are open or closed, given that education (and the future benefit to society) is undeniably better within schools, and given the damage to the economy of parents having to look after children when schools are closed, I can’t see the Government keeping schools closed a moment longer than they have to.

    I would suggest the greater risk is the temptation to open schools earlier rather than later.

  2. My son will not return to school until and unless the so called government can give it to me in writing that my six year old son will be safe 1. firstly you said it does not effect children you were wrong 2 you said only effects older generation and those with underlined sickness you were wrong so when you say for example its ok to come out of lockdown even then it should be a while before the children go back i will not play roulette with my child’s life neither should any other parent

    kindest regards government Steve

    • I agree. Reopening schools too early will result in needless deaths. Children are not immune from Coronavirus. In addition, some children have parents that are older than the norm. My daughter is nearly 13 and I am months away from my 60th birthday. This would put both myself and my sick partner at risk and the potential for our child to be orphaned. Schools are a hotbed for the spread of viruses and the onward transmission to everybody else.

  3. Tests for immunity first or vaccine before my kids are forced back to school, based on the government trying to convince us that kids are not affected by this virus. Also, I have elderly parent at home and I’m a single parent. If something happens to either of us, my kids have no one. I’d rather take them out of school and home school myself than leave my kids orphans or have anything happen to them. Your stiff upper lip is going to get people killed unnecessarily.

  4. Mrs Julie Kendrick

    Theres the mental health and physical safety of kids at home too. Theres pressured parents who abuse there kids. Drunks and drug users. Theres also sex rings everywhere. Parents selling there kids for drugs. And then there kids themselves bored. We dont need more kids abusing other kids as there bored. Kids are evil these days..

  5. Paul Beattie

    Teachers and support staff would need full ppe masks ie .no one in there mind will send there child back or work in that environment with out ppe.theys educational people need to go back to school as common sense seems faraway.some schools have only had 2 3 pupils to open a school is just crazy.lives are and will be put at risk where will education get you then .

  6. I have a 4 year old daughter that started school in September 19. She only started school in September because she was born prematurely whereby if she was born on her actual due date she would have started this year. She has done well at school and loves the environment. She’s very inquisitive so enjoys being hands on in reception, however it’s been clear from the feedback up until school closures that she wasn’t quite up to par for want of a much better term, in terms of progression through the early stages. The initial concerns we had about sending our daughter to school last September have only been compounded by all of this and what we see as to some degree, time lost and despite best efforts, there is a real concern she won’t be ready to move forward. Even at the age of 4, which some might see as an easy age, there is only so much we can do as parents when trying to balance work and schooling and similarly, we just can’t substitute the classroom even with the best will in the world – she just reacts better to the classroom. She is now asking without prompts when she can see her friends and when will school start. It’s just another heartbreaking negative response to a what seems like an endless list of the negative responses being provided to our children. Although young, you do have to question what effect this has on the children mentally. I would never want to put her in harms way but at the minute I’m finding it increasingly difficult; it just seems as though all the joy is being zapped out of a world where at that age, kids are at their most innocent and it should be nothing more than a joyous time and school i such a big part of that. It also raises the question of what next, repeating the first year, will many parents have the same thought, how will they catch up. Lots to think about.

  7. Suzy B

    Seriously, will Geoff Barton be putting himself on the frontline in the classroom? I bet not. ‘Cathartic’ how pompous and arrogant is that? This is people’s lives we are talking about. No one, no one is safe from this. It’s outrageous to be even thinking of re-opening. We are no further on than when the closure was put in place followed by lockdown the following week- Other than the fact that there has been thousands and thousands of deaths and people suffering. There’s no vaccine, no immunity test freely available, and no evidence to say you will not be re-infected, and a paltry amount of tests being done. In my authority, they only test those that need admitting to hospital. So? Why would you decide to open when the exact same risks are present that led to closure in the first place? You cannot social distance in schools. Children super spread- it’s seen with norovirus every single year! And children will clearly take this virus home to parents/ vulnerable/ elderly whoever this virus wishes to infect. No one is safe. The gvt has spent weeks ramming this down our throats at every tv advert opportunity- then hey, let’s open schools in June Geoff Barton??
    You need to accept, Geoff Barton et al, that GCSE and A levels etc are irrelevant in the face of this. If one, some, many of these children become ill, lose their lives, or become orphaned by your decision to use your influence to persuade the gvt for a partial re opening . There is a bigger picture here- this life must go on, we must get back to normal attitude is outrageous. We are not in normal and no where near it. Not until we have a proven vaccine. Do you follow advice from the experts at the WHO?
    PPE- would this be provided to staff and students as per Germany? I suspect not.
    Learn lessons from the Spanish flu 1918- those who lifted short lockdowns too early saw a major second spike. Those who locked down late saw the most deaths.
    50- 100 million estimated lives lost.
    GCSEs/ A Levels- seriously?? In the face of this? Something we still know precious little about.
    When you have full scientific evidence validated and agreed by the scientific community globally, only then can you consider re opening.
    In the meantime- continue. Serve the most vulnerable, children of key workers etc
    We must save lives and worry about the economy later.

  8. Suzy B

    And as a further note to my post, I believe Geoff Barton was previously an English specialist- catharsis actually is only achieved when there is a restoration of order after the purging of emotions associated with the chaos and tragedy that has taken place – we are clearly a long, long way off that. A moot point, but one I feel needs making.