Education unions and teachers concerned by ‘big bang’ reopening of schools

Education unions and teachers concerned by ‘big bang’ reopening of schools


Education unions and teachers concerned by ‘big bang’ reopening of schools

Education unions and teachers concerned by ‘big bang’ reopening of schools

Concerns have been raised over a “big bang” reopening for schools, as Boris Johnson is expected to announce that all students will be allowed to return in three weeks’ time.

Mr Johnson is expected to announce plans for all pupils in England to return on 8 March when he sets out a roadmap for easing the country’s lockdown later on Monday.

Along with outdoor activities, schools – which moved online to all but vulnerable and key worker children in early January – will be the first in line for a return.

Geoff Barton from the Association for School and College Leaders (ASCL) said while his union shared the government’s goal to bring all children back onsite as soon as possible, it remains “concerned about the idea of a ‘big bang’ approach of a full return of pupils all at the same time”.

He said it was “difficult to understand” why England’s approach “would go so much further” than plans in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have opted for a phased return to school.

“It is crucial that the return of all pupils to face-to-face education is safe and sustainable and that we don’t end up prolonging a cycle of disruption,” Mr Barton said.

Paul Whiteman from the school leaders’ union NAHT also called for children to return to school in a way that is safe and reduces the risk of further disruption to education.

“A third lockdown for schools would be more devastating than taking our time now,” he said. “The government’s task today is to reassure both families and the profession that they have a sound scientific basis for their approach, and a well thought through plan for how schools will reopen safely to all.”

The NAHT general secretary added: “We need a cautious plan for a sustainable return.”

Matthew Davies, a headteacher, told The Independent he was “concerned” at the prospect of a full wider reopening to all pupils towards the start of next month.

“I was hoping to see a gradual increase in pupils numbers from 8 March coupled with additional measures in place to support school leaders,” he said. 

Andy Byers, a secondary school headteacher in Durham, said he was eager to return to school as soon as possible, but concerned at how plans for testing students will work.

The government has said secondary and college pupils would be offered coronavirus tests on their return.

“I am concerned about testing students and want to learn more because it will be impossible for many schools to test that many students in such a short period of time,” Mr Byers told The Independent.   

Ian McNeilly, the chief executive of the de Ferrers Trust, which runs seven schools across Staffordshire and Derbyshire, said: “I suspect that secondary schools will stagger the return of pupils in the week beginning 8 March as it will be difficult to get through a testing programme for pupils if they all return on the Monday.”

Another academy trust leader, Lucy Heller, told BBC’s Today programme on Monday she would like to see “some movement on early vaccines” for frontline staff – including those in schools – ahead of the 8 March.

Meanwhile, Labour’s leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC it was “frustrating” that the government did not use half-term to vaccinate teachers and school staff.

Mr Johnson has said the roadmap – to be revealed later on Monday – would bring England out of lockdown “cautiously”.

“Our priority has always been getting children back into school which we know is crucial for their education and wellbeing,” he tweeted on Monday. “We’ll also be prioritising ways for people to reunite with loved ones safely.”


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