‘Impossible’ for many schools to return on June 1 with safe social distancing, warns headteachers’ union boss

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IT WILL be impossible for many schools to reopen by June 1 with new social distancing measures in place, the headteachers’ union boss has warned.

General Secretary of The National Association for Head Teachers (NAHT) Paul Whiteman said it will be particularly difficult for primary schools with younger pupils – the first children expected to go back to classrooms.

Union bosses have warned it would be “impossible” to get schools ready for a June 1 reopening

Paul Whiteman is the highest paid union boss taking home over £200k last year

Paul Whiteman told MPs social distancing at schools would be a challenge

Mr Whiteman told the Education Select Committee today: “If social distancing is as we understand it now – the two metre rule to be applied in schools – there are very many schools that are saying it is simply impossible to achieve.”

He said making sure younger year groups stay at least two metres apart from each other and their teachers and practice good hygiene such as hand washing will be particularly difficult.

The Department for Education issued guidelines yesterday on how schools should enforce social distancing – including limiting class sizes to 15 students.

Schools are told to stagger lunch and break times, as well as drop-off and pick-up times, to reduce the number of pupils moving around at once.

It also said schools should look at bringing in a one-way system in corridors, or putting a divider in the middle to control the flow of kids.

Ministers admitted last night they cannot keep kids two metres away from each other all day, so each class will form a self-contained “bubble” so they don’t mix with other kids at the schools.

Boris Johnson said on Sunday night  reception, year 1 and year 6 would be the first students to return in June.

But the PM is facing a revolt from education unions who have demanded more clarity over how schools can realistically keep students and staff safe.

Mr Whiteman said: “Social distancing is a massive problem.”

But Mr Whiteman said even with just 15 students – it would be difficult to have social distancing in classrooms.

He said: “Our members are telling us that their building sizes on average would only accommodate classes of 10 to 12, rather than 15.

“So straight away we’re getting into some real practical difficulties about whether the Government’s ambition can be practically accommodated.

“Let alone all the fears that parents have about bringing their children back into school, and the fears of the workforce too.”

He told MPs there “isn’t enough understanding of the scientific basis” to instil confidence in parents that it was safe for kids to return to classrooms.

No10 said yesterday children would not be fined if they chose to keep their kids at home over concerns for their safety.

President of the Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Jenny Coles said schools would at least five or six weeks to get ready for kids to be back behind desks safely.

She told the Committee: “Getting that parental confidence, in terms of a phased return to school, will need a lot of work by central Government, local communities and local government.

“This is not going to be something that’s going to be fixed by June 1. It’s going to take a lot of weeks and a lot of work to do that.”

Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney urged its 450,000 members not to engage with planning for a June 1 return until the Government issued more advice.

Head of education at Unison, which represents school support staff, Jon Richards, also told its members not to make plans until there was a joint plan between the unions.

A poll from the NEU suggested that a third of parents do not immediately plan to send their children back to school once lockdown measures are eased.

The survey, of 1,000 parents found that nearly half (49%) said they would send their children back to school as soon as it reopens, but 33% said they plan to delay the return.

Health Secretary said this morning it was “completely natural” for parents to worry about sending their kids back to school.

He told ITV: “The reason we’ve said what we have is actually because homeschooling and telly schooling for five- and six-year-olds, in Year 1 and in Reception, is much harder.

“We do want to make sure that education is interrupted as little as possible. Also, childcare is much more difficult if you’ve got a five-year-old, six-year-old or a child in pre-school.

 

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