Most schools will take ‘flexible’ approach to reopening, union poll shows
Three quarters of schools intend to reopen to more pupils in June, a poll suggests, following widespread safety concerns over children returning to classrooms amid the ongoing pandemic.
Most school leaders (77.6%) said they will take a flexible approach using rotas and a smaller number of year groups when they increase their numbers from Monday and the week after, the NAHT school leaders’ union said.
But 10% of the 833 school leaders polled said they will not be in a position to take more pupils on Monday, or the week after.
Just 12.1% said they will increase the number of pupils attending school completely in line with the Government’s proposals, the union said.
Earlier this week, Boris Johnson announced that the Government’s five key tests required for the easing of the lockdown have been met – and schools will admit more pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 from Monday.
Secondary schools will also start offering face-to-face contact from June 15, the Prime Minister said.
The decision came after teaching unions and council leaders spoke out about safety concerns.
On Saturday, NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said school leaders had worked “tirelessly” in recent weeks to put in place safety arrangements for pupils, staff and parents.
He said: “We have pushed hard for flexibility from the Government around the June 1 date and for a willingness to take local circumstances into account.
“Without it many schools could not take the measures advised by Public Health England.
“It is encouraging to see that the majority of schools have used positively the flexibilities afforded to them.
“Much of the angst surrounding the widening of access could have been avoided if this approach had been supported by Government earlier.”
He said schools will inevitably have staff who cannot work because they are shielding or have health issues, and that others might “not have enough confidence to go back”.
He added: “The Government now needs to use all of its powers to inform parents that their cooperation with local flexibility and adherence to public health advice will be essential to keeping schools safe.”
Meanwhile, headteachers have said they expect supermarket-style queues outside the school gates and divided playground areas when some pupils return.
Hartford Manor Primary School in Cheshire is taking a “phased approach” by reopening to 100 more pupils over successive days from June 8.
Headteacher Simon Kidwell said parents will queue at drop-off and pick-up times, classroom windows will be open to ensure good ventilation, extra cleaners have been employed and water fountains, as “hotspots for transmission”, have been removed.
He said: “Social distancing for adults is going to be stringent, with a dropping-off system where parents will have to queue a bit like at the supermarket.
“The children will be kept in ‘bubbles’ of 15 to ensure social distancing between each other by using cones in the playground.”
Bryony Baynes, headteacher at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester, said similar measures would be in place at her school, adding that corridors will have one-way systems and staff will be allowed to wear face masks if they want to.
“Realistically, as I have said to parents, I can’t promise you that the little ones will be two metres apart at all times – they are four and five years old,” she said.
“If a child falls over, we are still going to pick them up and cuddle them.”
While the school has tried to keep things as normal as possible, the youngsters will undoubtedly see some differences as they walk in the door, she added.
“It will initially seem very strange to them – however, children are very resilient and as long as the staff greet them with smiles and they are with some of their friends, I think they will adapt to the new normal.”
Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than nine weeks ago due to the Covid-19 outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.
Findings from a PA survey of local authorities show that more than a dozen councils are advising schools not to open to more pupils from Monday.
Jackie Schneider, a music teacher in Merton, south-west London, said her school had taken the decision not to return until June 18 because of insufficient space for social distancing.