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Headteachers cast doubt on primary school reopening plans

PUBLISHED: 16:35 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 16:49 11 May 2020

Children may return to primary school in June after nearly three months of lockdown. Piucture: PA Images

Children may return to primary school in June after nearly three months of lockdown. Piucture: PA Images

PA Images

Headteachers have said plans for primary children to start returning to the classroom from June 1 needs to be proved to be safe and workable amid concerns over social distancing young pupils and staff.

Ashley Best-White, executive headteacher at The Nebula Federation, which includes primary schools in Horsford and Old Catton. Picture: Nebula FederationAshley Best-White, executive headteacher at The Nebula Federation, which includes primary schools in Horsford and Old Catton. Picture: Nebula Federation

The government said it expects pre-school children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to be back in school in “smaller sizes”, from the start of next month.

It aims to ensure that the youngest children, and those preparing for secondary school, have “maximum time with their teachers”.

However the majority of secondary school pupils will not attend classes until the next school year in September at the earliest.

The Department of Education said that the ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer holidays for a month “if feasible” - but this will be kept under review.

It plans to engage with schools and early years providers to develop further detail and guidance on how schools should facilitate this.

MORE: ‘Unworkable’, ‘confusing and upsetting’: Parents react to school return plans

Norfolk headteachers have reacted cautiously to the plans and what measures will be needed for children to return.

Stuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodStuart Allen, Headteacher, Mile Cross Primary School, Norwich. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Ashley Best-White, executive headteacher at The Nebula Federation, which includes Horsford Primary, Frettenham Primary, Hainford Primary, Old Catton Juniors, White Woman Lane and St Faith’s Primary, said: “Any plan to increase the number of pupils in schools has to be practicable and manageable.

“In many cases it will be physically impossible to bring back the number of pupils being suggested by the prime minister in all of our schools and maintain any sense of social distancing, this is especially the case in our infant sites and small schools.”

In a letter to parents she added: “I know that you, like us, will have a range of questions. I am waiting to receive more information from the government about what this means for our schools and how to keep our workplaces safe.”

Schools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 23. Picture: Tim Goode/PA WireSchools have been closed except for vulnerable and key worker children since March 23. Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Mile Cross Primary School headteacher Stuart Allen said: “What we don’t want to do is muddy the water at present by saying whether we are reopening or not.

“Clearly the government has an expectation and a plan in place for some time in June, but until we get any kind of reassurances and feel the R-number or the number of infections have dropped sufficient that everyone is fairly confident, not only the parents and children, but also the staff, any speculation isn’t really helpful at all.”

MORE: Schools could turn into ‘Covid swamps’ if June 1 opening goes ahead, Norfolk union warns

Geoff Barton, a former Bury St Edmunds headteacher and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that “social distancing is extremely difficult” with children in reception and Year 1.

“We are not trying to impede the reopening of schools,” he said. “Throughout the crisis we have highlighted the importance of bringing in more pupils when the time is right to do so and there is a clear plan in place to manage it safely.”

The 50-page government strategy, published on Monday, added that secondary schools and further education colleges should prepare to begin some “face-to-face contact” with Year 10 and 12 students who have key exams next year.

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