United Kingdom

Schools will defy plans to restart schools full time by only reopening until lunch, heads warn

Schools will defy the Government’s promise to have children back in classrooms full-time in September by only opening for half-days.

Parents across the country may have been expecting to pick up their children at around the typical time of 3.15pm from Monday to Friday next term.

But many are being sent emails from schools telling them they will educate their children only until lunchtime on at least one day of the week. Some schools will be doing this twice a week, or even closing at an earlier time all five days of the week.

Some schools are saying they will have to send children home early so they can meet new deep cleaning standards. Ministers have been forced to admit that they are powerless to force schools to reopen in September if teachers refuse to go back to work (file photo)

Head teachers say they need to do this to meet extra safety requirements because of the coronavirus pandemic, including more time needed for deep cleaning.

It comes as papers from the Government’s advisory group Sage revealed that only one teacher has died from the virus in the UK – and they did not pick it up while at school. And the average number of confirmed cases among children is close to zero, and no child has needed hospital care with coronavirus since the start of June.

Just three teachers have needed hospital care in the same period.

Several schools say they will have to send children home at least one afternoon a week so that their teachers can be allowed their statutory time for lesson-planning and marking. 

The average number of confirmed cases among children in the UK is close to zero, and no child has needed hospital care for coronavirus since the start of June. Schools in some other countries, such as the one in Godley, Texas, pictured here have students attending wearing masks as they resume in-person classes

They would usually do this while another teacher or a teaching assistant takes over their class for the afternoon, but schools say this is difficult to do given the requirement for teachers and pupils to remain within a constant social ‘bubble’.

They say they will make up for this lost time with shorter breaks.

But the arrangements will raise fears of children missing out on more classroom education after already losing, in many cases, half a year of schooling because of the lockdown. 

They will also be a major inconvenience for many parents planning to return to their old patterns of work in the autumn.

Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘Teachers are entitled to an amount of planning, preparation and assessment time during the school week.

The Department for Education says that changes to the school day should not 'inconvenience' parents. Schools shouldn't shorten their days or limit the curriculum unless it is expected to help students, with fears many have fallen behind after more than five months off

‘However, the need to keep pupils and adults apart in consistent bubbles may make this harder, and some schools may decide to close earlier on one day a week. It is an example of the dilemmas facing schools in the new term.’ 

Schools planning to stick to the their old closing times say they will meet safety requirements by having staggered start times for different year groups and scaling back breakfast and after-school clubs.

Adding to the potential confusion for parents, some teaching unions are still not backing any form of September reopening. The head of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted urged schools to ignore ‘threatening noises’ from the Government and refuse to reopen if they feel is it unsafe.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘The structure of the school day and week should not be a cause of inconvenience to parents, and schools should not shorten either the day or week unless it is... to support and enhance their pupils’ education.’

British paediatricians warn that lockdown restrictions are likely to have killed more children than the virus itself. An article in the British Medical Journal claims at least nine children died of cancer or sepsis by the end of April after coming too late to hospital. This is higher than the total number of children who had died of Covid-19 across the UK by that point. 

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