Head Teachers’ Leader says 1 June is earliest realistic school opening

The earliest "realistic" point at which schools in England could start re-opening would be 1 June, head teachers' leader Geoff Barton has said.

Written on April 6, 2020 by Xeinadin Group

"We cannot see any realistic way that schools could be re-opened to more pupils before the second half of the summer term," said the ASCL leader.

And "planning would need to begin very soon" in order to meet a 1 June target, with staged returns for social distancing.

Schools closed their doors to all except vulnerable children and those of key workers over a month ago.

At the weekend, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said no date was set for returning to school, quashing speculation about an imminent return.

The education secretary said if and when five thresholds in the fight against coronavirus were reached, a date could be set for schools to reopen:

  • the NHS's ability to cope is fully protected
  • the daily death rate is dropping
  • infection rates are falling to manageable levels
  • there are sufficient supplies of testing and protective equipment
  • there is no risk of a "second peak" of infections

It's a safety-first approach, with school leaders backing the reliance on medical advice. Once those requirements have been met, a date could be set for schools to re-open.

But it would not be immediate, with schools expecting a further "lead in" time, possibly of weeks, to prepare for a complicated, staged return that allows them to maintain social distancing. Parents would also have to be persuaded it was safe.

With such a time frame, starting this half term becomes very unlikely. If opening after half term, it would mean somewhere in the seven weeks between 1 June and the term ending in mid-July.

Mr Barton said the priority should be Years 10 and 12, who are part-way through GCSEs and A-levels, and Year 6, where children are about to move to secondary school. "What is crucial is that schools are able to re-open in a manner which inspires confidence among staff, pupils and parents - and that it is as safe as possible," said Mr Barton.

Other countries might provide evidence of how a return might work. In France, primary-school pupils will start to go back, in classes of no more than 15, from 11 May. And in the Netherlands, they will go back, on a part-time basis, on the same date, with secondary pupils returning from 1 June.

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