Coronavirus: Williamson expects 'phased' return to schools

The education secretary has said he expects schools to reopen “in a phased manner”.

Giving evidence to the Parliamentary education committee this morning, Gavin Williamson said the government was giving “a lot of consideration” to how the return of pupils to schools will be managed.

Schools have been closed to all but the most vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers since March 20, and there has been growing speculation over when and how they will fully reopen.

Earlier this month, the Sunday Times reported that the government was considering several options, one of which would see schools return as early as May 11, with some age groups allowed back ahead of others.

Asked by committee chair Robert Halfon whether the return of pupils to schools would be “in stages”, with pupils of some ages returning before others, Williamson said: “This is obviously something that we are giving a great amount of thought to, and giving a lot of consideration.

“Just a couple of weeks ago I commissioned SAGE to set up a sub-group to look at the particular issues of opening schools, making sure that when schools are open it’s done in the best possible way with the very best scientific and medical advice.

“And we expect SAGE to report back, and the information that we get from SAGE and from Public Health England will be the key parts of what informs us to how best we open schools.

“But I do expect schools to be opened in a phased manner.”

Williamson also acknowledged concerns about the safety of school staff and pupils.

“We have to constantly look at how we updated the advice and give teachers and those who work in schools the very best advice in making sure they create a safe space.

“It’s incredibly important we get the right balance in terms of making sure we make an environment that is good to learn in but also a safe environment for people to work in as well.”