Vicky Ford insisted the focus would be to reduce contact between pupils and staff as much as possible to help reduce the coronavirus transmission risk. But she admitted it would be harder for early years children to maintain social distancing rules like older students and adults. Under Boris Johnsons roadmap out of lockdown nurseries and Primary schools will reopen at the earliest on June 1. The first schoolchildren to return will be those in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
All primary aged children will return before the summer holidays for one month if feasible. Secondary schools have been told to prepare for some face to face contact with year ten and 12 pupils, who are due to sit GCSEs and A-levels next year.
But the plan has prompted backlash , with unions urging ministers to “step back” on plans, accusing them of showing a “lack of understanding” over the dangers of the spread of coronavirus in schools.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted yesterday that getting children back to school is “vital” for their educational development as he welcomed the efforts by many schools in England to prepare for a wider reopening.
Following a meeting between education unions and the Government’s scientific advisers Mr Williamson said: “I want to reassure parents and families that we are giving schools, nurseries and other providers all the guidance and support they will need to welcome more children back in a phased way and no earlier than June 1.
“That’s why we have engaged closely with stakeholders from across the sector throughout the past seven weeks, including the trade unions, and today we arranged a detailed briefing for them with the scientific and medical experts.
“Getting children back to school is vital for their educational development and many schools are already taking steps to welcome back their pupils. I am grateful for their support.”
Speaking during a question and answer session hosted on the parenting forum Mumsnet, Ms said that plans would be put in place to protect the safety of pupils and staff.
“I completely understand that social distancing within childcare settings with very young children will be harder to maintain,” she said.
“We know that, unlike older children and adults, early years and primary age children cannot be expected to remain 2 metres apart from each other and staff.
“In deciding to bring more children back to early years and schools, we are taking this into account.
“It is still important to reduce contact between people as much as possible, and we can achieve that and reduce transmission risk by ensuring children, young people and staff where possible, only mix in a small, consistent group and that this small group or ‘bubble’ stays away from other people and groups.”
She added that schools and Early Years providers will be asked to limit contact between parents.
Earlier Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said that primary school children could be taught to social distance when they return in June.
Mr Lewis told BBC Breakfast that schools would be able to enforce “good social distancing, following the guidelines, in a healthy environment”, adding: “It’s also a good place for our teachers to continue to remind children about social distancing, about the stay alert issues, like washing your hands regularly and practising good social distancing.”
He added: “Well I think one of the things teachers are able to do, both in the classroom and outside the classroom, and all of us as parents and people in society, is to continue to educate each other around social distance.
“So yes, even in a school environment I think it is important that we do what we can to encourage and explain and educate around social distancing.”
Downing Street said yesterday that teachers do not have to wear face coverings unless providing care for a child who has come into school with symptoms.
The Prime Ministers official spokesman said: “Our guidance on face coverings is clear, they are for enclosed public spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet such as crowded shops or public transport.
“Schools do not fall into that category.
“It is rare for a teacher to have to wear PPE, they should only be worn if providing close-contact care for a child with symptoms,” he said.
He added: “Any child with symptoms shouldn’t be going into school in the first place.”