Unions question plan to reopen classrooms on March 8 and say ‘phased’ return should be an option

Teaching unions cast doubt yesterday on ambitious plans to get all pupils back into school on March 8.

Downing Street hopes that all primary and secondary children in England can return to classrooms three weeks today as long as Covid rates continue to decline.

But unions were sceptical and asked why ministers have abandoned the idea of a ‘phased’ return of year groups which was used last year.

Geoff Barton, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘There is no point in bringing all children back at once if this causes a spike in coronavirus infection rates which forces another lockdown. It is vital all options are kept open.’

Teaching unions cast doubt yesterday on ambitious plans to get all pupils back into school on March 8 [Stock image]

Teaching unions cast doubt yesterday on ambitious plans to get all pupils back into school on March 8 [Stock image]

Teaching unions cast doubt yesterday on ambitious plans to get all pupils back into school on March 8 [Stock image]

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the Government must show decisions ‘are led by the scientific evidence and advice’. 

He also called for ‘evidence of sustained’ cuts to the R rate, nationally, regionally and locally.

Steve Chalke, who runs the Oasis academies trust , described No 10’s timetable as ‘impossible’. He told The Sunday Times: ‘We should be driven by scientific data, not dates.’

In a blog last week, the Department for Education appeared to be trying to dampen expectations, saying: ‘We hope to be able to start welcoming back more pupils from 8 March at the earliest.

‘It is important to reiterate that we do not see this as a ‘return to school’ but more of an expansion of the numbers of pupils already in school.’ 

The debate over school reopenings came as the outgoing Children's Commissioner warned that one in six children may never catch up on lost school time without the right support [Stock image]

The debate over school reopenings came as the outgoing Children's Commissioner warned that one in six children may never catch up on lost school time without the right support [Stock image]

The debate over school reopenings came as the outgoing Children’s Commissioner warned that one in six children may never catch up on lost school time without the right support [Stock image]

The debate came as the outgoing Children’s Commissioner warned that one in six children may never catch up on lost school time without the right support.

Anne Longfield told Sky News that many youngsters needed help to ‘build back those social skills and that confidence’.

However Sir Kevan Collins, the education catch-up tsar, cautioned against seeing longer days and time spent at summer schools as a panacea.

‘You’ve got to increase the quality as well as the time,’ he told Times Radio:

Some scientific advisers are concerned about the possible impact on the R rate, the Sunday Times reported, but Boris Johnson favours keeping other controls in place in exchange for the return of schools, even if it does increase overall infection rates.

‘Getting pupils in class is the PM’s top priority. We know that will increase infections and we need to move cautiously with everything else,’ a source told the paper.

The Department for Education said it would not comment on speculation ahead of the Prime Minister’s roadmap, due on February 22.

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