All children may not be back in school for September, Gov admits

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ALL SCHOOL children may not be back in class full-time for the September term, the Government confessed tonight.

The admission came as ministers confirmed they have scrapped a pledge to get all primary kids back in for a month before summer.

Just half of primary schools reopened last week

Furious MPs and campaigners said the reopening of pubs and theme parks are being prioritised over children’s life chances.

They called for a “national crusade” to create new ‘Nightingale schools’ in village halls and churches to get kids learning again.

A government source said they expect schools to reopen for “more pupils” by September but are taking a “cautious approach”.

They added: “It is difficult for me to predict what is going to happen in the coming weeks and what the scientific advice is going to be.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told MPs he hopes all kids will get back to class September – but fell short of promising to.

He said: “While we are not able to welcome all primary children back for a full month before the summer, we continue to work with the sector on the next steps.

“We would like to see schools who have the capacity to bring back more children in those smaller class sizes.

“We will be working to bring all children back to school in September.”

His words left the door open to only bringing kids back to school part time, with remote home learning carrying on.

It came as:

  • Gavin Williamson said new minimum standards of education for remote teaching are drawn up to stop kids stuck at home falling behind.
  • New figures show 52 per cent of primaries followed orders to reopen by last Thursday, with around a quarter of eligible kids going in.
  • Ministers suggested primaries will have ‘priority lists’ of pupils they will give a class spot to, based on how urgently their parents need childcare.
  • It emerged a new “ambitious” plan to help kids catch up after the Covid schools shutdown is being worked up.
  • GCSES, A Levels and other exams will go ahead next year, it was confirmed.

Primary schools began reopening for nursery, reception and Years One and Six last week.

But they have been told to bring in social distancing and cap their classes at 15 to protect their pupils from Covid.

This means heads will need twice as many classrooms and teachers to get all their pupils back in full time.

Downing Street scaled back their targets after admitting many schools simply do not have the space to do this.

Quizzed in the Commons today, Mr Williamson said he was desperate to ensure “there is not a generation of children who miss out” in the schools shutdown.

But in a hint a big dose of homeschooling is here to stay, he said a new “basic minimum curriculum” for remote teaching is being drawn up.

Gavin Williamson said not all kids will go back to school before summer

While he suggested schools may only be able to return to full capacity when the protective bubble system is no longer needed.

He said: “We do have limitations – where we have a limit of 15 children per class that obviously does limit the ability to have as many year groups in school as we like.

“But as this is changed and as this is modified, this will give us the ability to slowly and cautiously move forward in terms of welcoming more children back to school when that is the right time.”

Mr Williamson suggested it may take over a year for kids to catch up on their studies.

And he said the Government is working on an “ambitious” plan which will give children extra support.

But ministers faced a furious backlash over their plans.

The Children’s Commissioner warned a massive “educational gap” is being created by keeping schools shut for many kids.

Anne Longfield said: “Look at some of the things the Government has prioritised over recent months at vast scale and speed – the measures to save jobs, the 4,000-bed hospitals, propping up the economy.

 

“All of those things have happened in a way that is unimaginable.

“It’s that level of will and determination that’s needed.”

She warned that kids’ lives risk being “furloughed” unless action is taken urgently.

She fumed: “We’re seeing a situation where theme parks are going to be open in a month’s time, shops, pubs and restaurants but still children are not back in school.”

Tory MP and education select committee boss Robert Halfon said it is a “strange country” that allows mass protests to erupt and campaigns for pubs to reopen while kids are still barred from going to school.

Steve Chalke, head of the Oasis academy schools chain, told HOAR there needs to be a “national crusade” to find community spaces to teach kids in.

He said: “I am saying to community leaders – give us your halls, give us your hotel lobbies, your church halls, mosque halls – the spaces big enough for a bubble. Give us those.

“They are stood there empty, doing nothing. We can use those spaces to teach kids.”

He said it was predictable the “wheels would come off” the government’s policy because it has not been thought through.

He said: “The government said schools need to be socially distanced and then said the whole school has got to come back.

“You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that is impossible. There is no school in the whole world able to take back its entire cohort and maintain social distancing.”

 

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