Schools await decision on reopening to all pupils

As schools wait for a roadmap next week on the reopening of schools, it is currently unknown whether pupils will return all at once or with a staggered approach

Schools in England are awaiting an announcement that will take place on 22 February from prime minister Boris Johnson about the reopening of schools to all pupils.

Schools have been closed since 5 January, except to vulnerable children and the children of key workers, with remote provision enabling pupils to continue their education.

It is unknown whether the reopening approach will be staggered or not. According to the i, Johnson is considering reopening all schools at once under a “big bang” approach, sparking fears that the proposed 8 March reopening date may be pushed back until Covid-19 cases are low enough for it to go ahead.

However, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Geoff Barton, said the return will need to be staggered to allow students to be tested for Covid-19.

Research from the University of Warwick looking at sick days taken because of Covid-19 during the autumn 2020 term suggests schools do not play a big role in spreading coronavirus. Absences matched infection rates in the wider community, with no evidence schools were a major driver of cases.

The study was unable to determine whether any infection staff or pupils had caught the virus at school. It also showed Covid-related absences were lower in primary schools than secondary, prompting co-researcher Dr Mike Tildesley to say, “you could potentially think about doing early years first”, but that it was a “political decision”.

In January, Guy Emmett, headmaster at Scarborough College, said the school felt ready to be open to all pupils. “I would like children back in school on 8 March, but I know it’s not that simple and do not envy the people who have to make these decisions,” he said.

Headmistress of Fairfield School, Lesley Barton, said, “safety for everyone must always be the priority”, and “there is little point becoming frustrated if plans for reopening schools and easing lockdown are being informed by the scientific data”.

Johnson has promised to give the education sector two weeks’ notice before pupils start to return.

The youngest primary school pupils are due to return on 22 February in Scotland and Wales, and 8 March for those in Northern Ireland.

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10 March 2021, 11am GMT