Boris Johnson has announced schools in England could reopen as early as 1 June as part of his “roadmap” plan for easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
On Monday the prime minister revealed in a 50-page document a proposed three-stage lifting of lockdown measures - stating that children could start returning to school in England from the beginning of next month.
The government’s is aiming for all primary schoolchildren to return to school before the summer for a month, if feasible - but the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend class until September at the earliest.
However, the phased return to full time education, detailed in the second stage of the COVID-19 Recovery Stratgey, is conditional upon evidence the reproduction (R) rate is declining before June.
Planned reopening of schools will be kept under review, with the Department of Education (DoE) confirming it will engage closely with schools and early years providers, to develop guidance on how schools would facilitate new rules.
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However, Johnson’s lockdown measures have provoked criticism from teachers unions and parents.
General secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), Patrick Roach, said there was “very serious concerns” about children returning to school in June.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The fact of the matter is the Government has announced a date but hasn’t come forward with a plan about how schools will ensure that they’re safe for pupils and safe for staff to be in from 1 June.
“And the Prime Minister said that it would be madness to risk a second spike in relation to transmission of the virus.
“Well the profession has got very serious concerns about that announcement of June 1, whether indeed it is possible to achieve it, but also how to achieve that in a way which is safe for pupils and staff.”
Meanwhile, nearly 450,000 parents have signed a Change.org petition urging the government to give parents a choice on sending their children back to school if they reopen next month.
Now the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said governments around the world must be able to ensure that schools can prevent transmission of the disease and control measures within school settings.
Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus laid out three key factors for governments to consider before safely reopening schools.
He told reporters: “First, a clear understanding about current Covid transmission and severity of the virus in children is needed.
“Second, the epidemiology of Covid-19 where the school is geographically located needs to be considered.
“Third, the ability to maintain Covid-19 prevention and control measures within the school setting.
“When reflecting on the decision to reopen schools the local government should assess the capacity of the schools to maintain infection prevention and control measures.”