Ministers last night reassured parents that reopening primary schools today is safe amid fears many will keep their children away.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was ‘extremely important’ children went back to school.
It comes as a study suggested up to half of families may shun sending their youngsters to lessons due to worries about the spread of coronavirus.
The majority of primaries are expected to open from today, despite fierce opposition from the National Education Union. At the 11th hour, the union again attempted to scupper openings, claiming they should be delayed until June 15 to protect youngsters and teachers.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said it was ‘extremely important’ children went back to school
But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson attempted to allay parental and staff concerns, insisting that Government decisions throughout the pandemic are ‘based on the best scientific and medical advice’.
He said: ‘While there might be some nervousness, I want to reassure parents and teachers that the welfare of children and staff continues to be at the heart of all of our considerations.
‘For the past three weeks the sector has been planning and putting protective measures in place.’
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, Mr Jenrick said ministers believe it is ‘possible to open schools safely’. He pointed out that 80 per cent of schools have been open throughout the pandemic, with thousands of teachers already educating children of key workers as well as vulnerable pupils.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson attempted to allay parental and staff concerns, insisting that Government decisions throughout the pandemic are ‘based on the best scientific and medical advice’
Mr Jenrick said: ‘It may be that there are some parents out there today who have not yet made the decision to send their children back to school but will do so in the days ahead when they’ve seen other people make that step and schools manage to reopen safely.
‘I certainly hope so, because it’s extremely important that we do get children back to school.
‘All of the evidence suggests that it is children from the most deprived, the poorer households, who are losing out by not having that crucial face-to-face contact that you get in a school setting. I don’t want to see that continue for any longer.’
Government safety measures include returning primary pupils having access to coronavirus testing, along with symptomatic members of their family. They will be kept in small, socially distanced groups of no more than 15 throughout the day, with staggered breaks, lunchtimes, drop-offs and pick-ups.
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, told the press conference that testing capacity across the country ‘is now very significant’ at up to 200,000 a day.
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, told the press conference that testing capacity across the country ‘is now very significant’ at up to 200,000 a day
She pointed out that the ‘risks of social interactions are reduced’ as pupils will be kept in small groups. Boris Johnson wants nurseries and early years providers to reopen today, and primary schools to allow back their Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 groups.
Some students in Year 10 and 12 will be allowed to meet face-to-face with their teachers at secondary school from June 15.
The majority of primaries are expected to reopen. But many are only admitting a fraction of eligible pupils, with the introduction of rotas, as they struggle to adapt to smaller classes and reduced teacher levels.
The National Foundation for Educational Research surveyed 1,233 head teachers in state primary and secondary schools in England.
They expect nearly half (46 per cent) of families to keep their children at home because of their concerns around coronavirus or the need to self-isolate. The figure is slightly higher for primary schools (47 per cent) compared to 42 per cent in secondary schools.
Across all schools, those with the highest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals – an indicator of poverty – estimate the figure to be 50 per cent. This compares to 42 per cent in schools which have low levels of disadvantaged students.
Mothers who could sue the Government over pupils’ human rights
By Jim Norton for the Daily Mail
Three mothers may sue the Government over school closures, claiming it may have breached children’s human rights.
They have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to ask whether the mental welfare of pupils has been considered.
They also fear draconian social distancing rules planned for returning schools could cause long-term psychological damage.
Welfare fears: Campaigners Liz Cole, 46, left, and Christine Brett, 48, right, are two mothers who could sue the government over school closures
Campaigner Christine Brett, who has two children, said: ‘These are healthy children who have been quarantined for 12 weeks – they shouldn’t be treated like they’re germs, disinfected on entry and separated on to individual tables.’
Schools will return today for select year groups for the first time since March 20.
The three mothers launched the Us for Them campaign for parents who say they were made to feel like pariahs for disagreeing with children being kept at home because of Covid-19. Molly Kingsley, 41, Liz Cole, 46, and Mrs Brett, 48, all from Cambridgeshire, have one child returning to school and another still at home.
They said evidence the lockdown harms youngsters’ well-being may have been overlooked. The group is also arguing against extreme distancing as it may breach the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Former lawyer Molly Kingsley (pictured) is one of three mothers who said evidence the lockdown harms youngsters’ well-being may have been overlooked
They have instructed lawyers to examine whether Government actions so far and the distancing plans may have been unlawful.
Former lawyer Mrs Kingsley said if it failed to take into account children’s welfare, they are prepared to sue. Almost 2,000 parents and teachers have backed the campaign.
A Department for Education spokesman insisted the welfare of children had been ‘at the heart of all considerations’.