Most secondary schools and colleges set to open to more pupils, survey suggests

Nearly nine in 10 secondary schools and colleges in England intend to reopen to more pupils next week – but more than a quarter are not expecting to bring back all eligible pupils, a survey suggests.

Most school and college leaders (88%) said they are planning to open to pupils from Year 10 and/or Year 12 from Monday, according to a poll by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

But around one in eight say they will not reopen to more pupils from June 15 – the date the Government has called for some “face-to-face contact” for pupils with GCSE and A-level exams next year – as many cite concerns about the reproduction rate of coronavirus as their reason for staying shut.

More than three in five (62%) school and college leaders said they plan to admit all eligible pupils, other than those who are shielding or self-isolating, from next week.

But 26% of the 833 school and college heads polled said they do not expect to bring in all eligible pupils, as a proportion of parents have already indicated that they do not plan to send their children in.

Some secondary school and college leaders are anticipating some pupils to stay at home next week in light of the Government’s guidance to ensure the use of public transport for school travel is “minimised”.

The findings come after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs that they were working towards bringing all children back to school by September, and GCSE and A-level exams will go ahead next year.

Already, primary schools in England have begun welcoming children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back to the classroom.

The Government wants secondary schools and colleges to provide “some face-to-face support” to Year 10 and 12 pupils from Monday.

Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) says secondary schools and colleges should only have a quarter of pupils in at any one time to reduce transmission risks, and it advises schools to practise social distancing by keeping pupils two metres apart from each other where possible.

The survey, of secondary school heads, college principals and trust leaders, suggests many are planning weekly contact sessions for all eligible pupils, while others are prioritising contact for pupils struggling with remote learning.

But respondents reported that the complexity of implementing the Government guidance and quotas has been challenging – and some leaders would like information about the plans for September.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “Schools and colleges have moved mountains to support children through the coronavirus pandemic with emergency provision, remote learning, and now bringing in more children, in extremely challenging circumstances.

“This is akin to something between a military operation and an exercise in mathematics. There are many practical safety measures to put in place, as well as allocating small groups of eligible pupils to available teachers, while ensuring no more than a quarter of the cohort is on site at any time.”

He added: “What is important now is that the Government works with the profession, as a matter of urgency, on a national plan for the recovery of education, with a particular focus on what happens from September, and how we support the learning and wellbeing of all children disrupted by this crisis.”

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