Parents are unlikely to get fined if they keep their children at home when schools reopen as part of the lifting of lockdown restrictions, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.
Amanda Spielman, the head of the schools inspectorate, told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme that given the number of children in households where somebody is at high risk, it is “extraordinarily unlikely that anybody would start at the stick end of the spectrum rather than the carrot”.
“I am fairly sure we will be running a mixed economy of schooling for a while yet with some children attending and some children learning as best, they can remotely,” she said.
Spielman argued it is in the “best interests of children” to reopen schools as quickly as possible, with younger children in particular missing the “structured routine” provided by schools.
Her comments come amid reports in The Sunday Telegraph that schools could be reopened as early as June 1 as part of a “roadmap” to ending the lockdown restrictions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is reportedly hoping to put teachers on three weeks’ notice to reopen primary schools in the coming days.
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“If you look at the interests of children, it’s very clear that their interests are best served in the vast majority of cases by being back at school as soon as possible,” Spielman said.
“Of course that has to be weighed up with a great many issues for adults, for staff in schools, for the healthcare system - but nevertheless if we look at children, it is in their interests.”
Asked about a phased approach to sending children back to school, and whether primary school children should be a priority, she said there was “a great deal of logic” to younger pupils returning first.
“We know that returning to normality for children is really important. The younger the child, the more they need that simple, structured routine where they understand what’s happening.
“It’s hard for them to go to school one day and then not for another two weeks.
“There’s also a logic from the point of view of parents. Younger children are the ones who need the greatest care and oversight.”
Spielman said schools were “in the hands of the health experts” to take guidance on social distancing within classrooms.
But while she said she “didn’t want to second guess” the experts, the fact that children were “somewhat less susceptible to serious complications” should mean they were safe in schools.
Earlier on Sunday morning, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: "It’s no secret that of course we want the kids to go back to school.
“But I’d be over-egging it to say there’s a date in place, there’s a plan in place."
It comes as a poll published by The Observer showed more than four in five Britons are against lockdown restrictions being eased for schools, pubs and restaurants this week.
Only 17% of those polled thought the time was right to consider re-opening schools, with smaller proportions of people thinking conditions had been met to allow cinemas, sporting stadia and nightclubs to open their doors.
The Opinium poll for the Observer questioned 2,000 adults between Wednesday and Friday and showed 79% of people were continuing to follow lockdown restrictions into their sixth week.