Coronavirus: Plan dropped for all primary pupils back in school

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THE plan for all primary school years in England to go back to school before the end of term is to be dropped by the government.

There had been an aim for all primary pupils to spend four weeks in school before the summer break.

But it is no longer thought to be feasible and instead schools will be given “flexibility” over whether or not to admit more pupils.
Head teachers’ leaders said it had never been a practical possibility.

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock conceded at Monday’s Downing Street briefing that secondary schools in England may not fully reopen until September “at the earliest”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting later to discuss the next steps to ease lockdown restrictions, before Education Secretary

There are separate rules for managing the threat of coronavirus in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Children in England began returning to primary schools in a phased process last week, with Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils heading back first.

Mr Williamson will give an indication later of how many more pupils in England have returned, but he is also expected to say that primary schools will no longer have to prepare for the return of all pupils, as previously proposed by the government.

Instead schools will have the option to increase numbers – but it will be up to them to decide whether they can bring in more classes and will take away the “pressure” to get ready.

The announcement will mean that many children in these other year groups will not be back in school until September.

Head teachers had warned several weeks ago that it was not a realistic possibility to accommodate all primary year groups at the same time, with social distancing limiting their capacity.

Class sizes are now only 15 pupils or less – so if each class occupied two classrooms, school leaders argued that they would have no space for all year groups to return.

“The ‘ambition’ to bring back all primary year groups for a month before the end of the summer term was a case of the government over-promising something that wasn’t deliverable,” said Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers’ union.

“It isn’t possible to do that while maintaining small class sizes and social bubbles, so we aren’t surprised that the policy has been jettisoned,” he said.

Paul Whiteman, of the National Association of Head Teachers, said “we’re pleased to see the government will not force the impossible” and that the plan had too many “practical barriers”.

Schools have remained open throughout the lockdown for children of key workers and vulnerable children.

But last Monday primary schools began the process of inviting back another two million children across three year groups.

Secondary pupils in Years 10 and 12 are to begin returning for some sessions in school from 15 June.

It is thought that primary pupil numbers have been increasing as parents have become more confident – but there have also been local concerns about different regional rates of infection.

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