Government plans to reopen English primary schools before summer in disarray

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

The UK government's plan to reopen schools in England are in disarray, after it admitted that not all primary school pupils will be able to return to the classroom before the end of summer.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to give an update on Tuesday that not all pupils will go back.

Boris Johnson last month said his aim was “to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages,” as he announced the opening of primary schools to pupils in reception, year one and year six from 1 June.

Department for Education guidance says school classes should be capped at 15 pupils, but some schools have admitted fewer pupils than this during the phased reopening for the school years Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

Many schools have said they are limited by classroom sizes, the need for social distancing and inadequate staff numbers.

The attendance figures represent a setback for Mr Johnson’s efforts to use schools as a lever to revive the economy.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union the NAHT, said: "Returning all pupils before the end of this term will present unsolvable practical barriers if the hierarchies of control are to be maintained.

In a further confirmation of the difficulties that teachers face, Matt Hancock hinted at Monday’s Downing Street press briefing that even a full return in September may be difficult.

Hancock said that for secondary schools, September was the “current working plan”; but it would require “ingenuity”.

Johnson has said he would like to see the 2-metre distancing rule altered, although Department for Education guidance already states that young children need not socially distance within the small groups, or “bubbles”, in which they are taught.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he was not surprised the plan to bring back all primary pupils before the summer holidays had been dropped.

He said: "The 'ambition' to bring back all primary year groups for a month before the end of the summer term was a case of the government over-promising something that wasn't deliverable.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said it has been "abundantly clear" that the Government's dates for reopening schools were "ill-considered, premature and unworkable".

Dr Roached added: "The government must now accept that its plans for wider reopening of schools are no longer credible."

Scotland and Northern Ireland have already said that their schools will not reopen more widely until after the summer holidays, with Scotland saying that schools will use a flexible mix of in-person and remote learning for the foreseeable future. Schools in Wales are to partially reopen later this month for a brief period.