The Government wants nurseries and some primary school year groups to return on June 1.
It has issued guidance on how schools can reopen to more pupils safely – such as by reducing the size of classes, keeping children in small groups without mixing with others, staggering break and lunch times as well as drop offs and pick ups, increasing the frequency of cleaning and reducing the used of shared items and utilising outdoor space.
However some teaching unions and councils have raised concerns.
In a detailed statement on his Facebook page, Tim Loughton MP said he completely understood the anxiety felt by some parents, but said we needed to be ‘positive and imaginative’ about children getting back into the classroom.
He said there were ‘personal and emotional costs’ to children being isolated at home, as well as the impact on their education, pointing out that those from less advantaged homes would be ‘the most hard hit’.
And he said the risk of infection with coroanavirus to school age children had been assessed at lower than 0.5 per cent, which he believed was ‘lower than the risk of catching seasonal flu’.
A phased return
Mr Loughton said it was ‘very frustrating’ that the largest teachers’ union, the NEU, had instructed its members not to cooperate with any planning to open up schools from June 1.
He said he had not been contacted by any headteachers in the constituency expressing concerns about the plans for a phased return.
Schools would have to be ‘fairly flexible and imaginative in how they open up to more pupils’, he said, suggesting that some theatres, cinemas and restaurant spaces could be temporarily adapted into classrooms.
According to a survey by this newspaper, 41 per cent of Worthing readers said they felt ‘Not at all comfortable’ about their children returning to school in early June, while 17 per cent felt ‘Not very comfortable’.
Meanwhile 25 per cent said ‘Very comfortable’ and 16 per cent said ‘Slightly comfortable’ – see the results in full here.
Headteachers across West Sussex have called for safety reassurances ahead of opening schools – read more here.
See Mr Loughton’s statement about schools reopening in full below:
“I completely understand the anxiety that many parents may be feeling about letting their children return to school from June.
“It is worth remembering however that schools never actually closed and many have been continuing to provide classes to a small number of vulnerable children or those of key workers.
“There is no evidence that children or teachers who have continued to be at school or nursery throughout the lockdown have been at any greater risk.
“It will be a case of a phased scaling up of numbers for certain priority year groups.
“The welfare of children remains paramount and many schools will have to be fairly flexible and imaginative in how they open up to more pupils.
“All along it is important to remember that these difficult decisions are all based on the advice provided to ministers by expert scientific advisers.
“The risk of infection to school age children has been assessed at lower than 0.5% which I gather is lower than the risk of catching seasonal flu.
“Studies on infection rates for children conducted overseas have corroborated this, including one from Australia this week.
“Testing and tracing facilities will be available and children will certainly need to wash their hands regularly with appropriate facilities provided.
“Some schools are looking at staggered opening times for different groups and a rota system for lunch.
“I have also suggested that for small and schools in old buildings in particular where there are serious space challenges we should also be looking at smarter use of alternative available space.
“We have lots of theatres and cinemas and restaurants that will continue to be closed for a while longer and in some cases it may just be possible to adapt that space too.
“My point is that we need to be positive and imaginative because we also have to weigh up the personal and emotional costs of children continuing to be isolated at home and the impact on their lost education.
“In that respect it might also be feasible to look at running summer schools over the holiday for children to play catch-up and again it can be done on a rota basis.
“It is very frustrating therefore that the largest teachers’ union the NEU has instructed its members not to cooperate with any planning to open up schools from June 1st.
“The main losers in all of this of course will be the children who risk falling behind considerably, with those from less advantaged homes the most hard hit.
“Aside from the obvious disruption to a child’s learning, which will have the biggest impact on younger children at the most impressionable stage, we should also be mindful of the damage that can be done to a child’s personal and emotional development by continuing to deprive them of the formal school environment with their friends and classmates.
“I am also very concerned at the implications for abuse to many hidden children now not on the school radar where many problems can be spotted.
“Nearly 90% of children termed ‘vulnerable’ and entitled to continue at school are in fact currently not in school.
“Unsupervised children with time on their hands are apparently spending more time online where they are more susceptible to those who would do them harm.
“This is not a decision which the Government has taken in isolation.
“Schools have already opened up in other European countries like Germany, Holland and Denmark.
“In addition, my colleague Miriam Cates, the new MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge and a former science teacher, has produced a very comprehensive video which answers a great many more questions than I could.
“There is a link on her Facebook page.
“So far, I have not been contacted by any headteachers in my constituency expressing concerns about the plans for a phased return.
“I have received many emails from parents however who are both concerned at the level of schooling they are able to provide and desperate to get back to work themselves but that cannot happen whilst their children are at home.
“Whilst there will be no penalty for families who do not send their children to school, families will be strongly encouraged to take up these places - unless the child or a family member is shielding or the child is particularly vulnerable due to an underlying condition.
“Priority groups, including vulnerable children and children of critical workers who have been eligible to attend throughout school closures, will continue to be able to attend schools, colleges and early years settings as they are currently.”
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