Coronavirus: Teachers' union urges clarity on school reopening

An empty classroom at a school in England

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Teachers and parents need “greater clarity” on the reopening of schools amid a rise in coronavirus cases, the head of a leading teachers’ union says.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said teachers need extra details to prepare for pupils’ return.

Schools in England are due to reopen in September. There are separate plans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It comes as two scientists advising the government said some restrictions may need to come back to reopen schools.

And as England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty warned the country was “near the limit” for opening up society.

Mr Roach told the Observer: “The warning from the chief medical officer that a fine balance has to be struck in ensuring public health at this stage of the pandemic, and that the country may have reached the limits to the easing of lockdown, will no doubt prompt questions for many parents as well as for those working in schools.”

Boris Johnson has previously pledged that both primary and secondary schools in England will return in September “with full attendance”.

Mr Roach warned that, if schools are to reopen safely, the government needed to give teachers clarification around the latest scientific advice “as well as sufficient time to review and, if necessary, adjust their reopening plans”.

Prof Graham Medley, a scientist advising the government, told the BBC on Saturday that pubs or “other activities” in England may need to close to allow schools to reopen next month.

Prof Medley, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) sub-group on pandemic modelling, said he believed most people “think that opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and that when we do that we are going to reconnect lots of households”.

“And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools,” he added.

“It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other, and then that’s a matter of prioritising. Do we think pubs are more important than schools?”

Another Sage member, Prof Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool, said there would probably be a second wave of the virus in October and “some hard decisions will need to be made about what restrictions need to be reintroduced”.

On Friday, the PM said further easing of the lockdown would be delayed.

Measures due to come in this weekend, including the reopening of casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and some close-contact services, as well as the return of indoor performances and pilots of large gatherings in sports venues and conference centres, have been postponed for at least a fortnight.

The expansion of wedding receptions to allow up to 30 people is also on hold.

Mr Johnson said on Friday he needed to “squeeze the brake pedal” on easing restrictions following a rise in coronavirus cases.

Latest figures showed a further 74 deaths were reported in the UK on Saturday, taking the total number of people who have died after testing positive for the virus to 46,193. The latest government statistics also showed 771 new cases had been confirmed.

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