We are about to see the phased reopening of schools to more pupils on top of those currently attending.
The Government initially put in place strict social distancing, including the closure of schools for everyone except vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, to slow the spread of the virus so the NHS would not be overwhelmed. We have now slowed the spread of coronavirus, our health system was not overwhelmed – with spare beds, ventilators, and hospital capacity at all times.
As the Government begins to gradually lift some of the restrictions, it hopes to be able to return some pupils to school. Initially, the Government expects children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to school, in smaller class sizes. The ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer, if feasible.
For older pupils, the Government hopes to get Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year some face-to-face contact with their teachers, to supplement their remote education. It is unlikely that other secondary pupils will return to school before the summer. However, this is all conditional on the rate of transmission of the virus coming down, and the scientific advice saying it is safe to do so.
Guidance and support is being provided to schools to ensure that both children and teachers are kept safe. Priority groups (children of critical workers and vulnerable children) of all ages should continue to be offered a place and strongly encouraged to attend.
It is right that this action is taken to avoid prolonging the impact that keeping schools shut will have on the most disadvantaged children in our society, something that I am particularly concerned about.
I believe that the significant risks to the life chances of the most disadvantaged must not be ignored. Other countries across Europe have managed a sensible, phased return of pupils to classrooms and it is therefore right that the Government continues to work with unions and schools, with these conversations ongoing, in order to get children back in the classroom as soon as possible.