Coronavirus: Gavin Williamson seeks to reassure parents over school plan


Children in the classroom

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said “we owe it to the children” to get pupils back in school, as he reassured parents it would be safe.

Mr Williamson said he knew some parents were “very anxious” about reopening schools, but said it would be a “cautious, phased return”.

It follows a row over whether the government’s plan to reopen schools in England on 1 June was too soon.

Teachers’ unions have expressed concerns over safety.

Speaking at the government’s daily briefing, Mr Williamson said: “There are some who would like to delay the wider opening of schools but there is a consequence to this.

“The longer that schools are closed the more children miss out. Teachers know this. Teachers know that there are children out there that have not spoken or played with another child of their own age for two months.

“They know there are children from difficult or very unhappy homes for whom school is the happiest moment in their week and it’s also the safest place for them to be.”

England is the only UK nation to set a date for schools to start to reopen. Schools in Wales will not reopen on 1 June, while those in Scotland and Northern Ireland may not restart before the summer holidays.

Schools have been closed because of coronavirus for most pupils since 20 March, staying open only for the children of key workers and vulnerable children.

The government has planned a phased reopening of primary schools, for children in nursery and pre-school, Reception and Years 1 and 6 at primary school from after half term on 1 June.

But teaching unions have warned it was still too early to be safe.

On Saturday, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said the government and unions should “stop squabbling and agree a plan” to reopen schools safely.

She said schools should open “as quickly as possible”, and called for stronger safety measures to be introduced, such as regular testing for pupils and teachers.

The government has already issued guidance for schools, saying they should:

  • Reduce class sizes and keep children in small groups without mixing with others
  • Stagger break and lunch times, and school arrival and departure times
  • Clean more frequently, and reduce the use of shared items and outdoor space



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