Government should ‘step back’ from plan to reopen schools in June, unions urge

The Government should “step back” from its plan to reopen schools in England to more pupils from June 1, education unions have urged.

Nine unions, representing school leaders, teachers and support staff, have accused the Government of showing a “lack of understanding” about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus in schools.

The joint statement, published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), warns that staff will “not be protected” by social distancing if primary schools reopen to more year groups from next month.

It says: “We call on the Government to step back from June 1 and work with us to create the conditions for a safe return to schools based on the principles and tests we have set out.”

The plea comes after the Government announced its ambition for all primary school pupils in England to go back to school for a month before the summer.

The Government said it expects children to be able to return to nurseries, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils to be back in school, from June 1 at the earliest.

The joint statement, from organisations including the NAHT school leaders’ union and the National Education Union (NEU), says: “We all want schools to reopen, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so.

“The Government is showing a lack of understanding about the dangers of the spread of coronavirus within schools, and outwards from schools to parents, sibling and relatives, and to the wider community.”

It comes after the Department for Education (DfE) issued guidelines on Monday which said primary school class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils and outdoor space should be utilised.

The advice, on how to safely reopen schools, calls for lunch and break times to be staggered, as well as drop-off and pick-up times, to reduce the number of pupils moving around.

On the guidance, the joint statement from the unions adds: “Uniquely, it appears, school staff will not be protected by social distancing rules.

“15 children in a class, combined with their very young age, means that classrooms of four and five-year-olds could become sources of Covid-19 transmission and spread.”

“We do not think that the Government should be posing this level of risk to our society,” it says.

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