Coronavirus: All children in England ‘back to school in September’

Pupils at Greenacres Primary Academy in Oldham, northern England on 18 June, 2020Image copyright

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Some primary school pupils in England began returning to classrooms at the beginning of June

All pupils in all year groups in England will go back to school in September, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

At the daily coronavirus briefing, he said the government was “signed up… to bring every child back, in every year group, in every school”.

Guidance on safety measures will be published in the next fortnight.

It comes after the prime minister announced a £1bn fund to help England’s pupils catch up with learning.

Schools closed to everyone except vulnerable children and those with a parent identified as a key worker on 20 March, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the lockdown measures started easing at the beginning of this month, children in nursery, reception, Year 1 and Year 6 were encouraged to returning to primary schools in England, albeit in smaller class sizes.

Some Year 10 and 12 pupils – selected because they are sitting GCSEs and A-levels respectively next summer – returned to secondary schools and colleges this week.

Ministers now want all pupils in England to return to classrooms full-time in the autumn, ending a near six-month absence for many pupils.

“School is vital to every one of our children, that is why we will bring all children, in all year groups, back to school in September,” Mr Williamson said

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Gavin Williamson was appointed education secretary last July

The education secretary said he understood “there is anxiety still among parents” about their children going back to school.

But he added: “I want to assure you that the well-being of your children is the absolute top priority for every single one of us.”

He said the government would publish guidance for schools within the next two weeks on how to bring children back “so that schools have the maximum amount of time to prepare for the next phase”.

It is a promise that many parents will have been waiting to hear.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has committed to all school pupils in all year groups going back full-time in September.

The part-time, online, often not-really-anytime lessons will be over.

But the much trickier question will be how to deliver this.

Even if social distancing is reduced – and class size “bubbles” of 15 pupils can be increased – there will still be massive logistical challenges.

Head teachers have warned any social distancing, even 1 metre, will require additional classrooms and teachers.

And they have been exasperated at time ticking away without any clear plan – with heads’ leader Geoff Barton complaining schools are working in an “information black hole”.

When the government had to U-turn on bringing back all primary pupils it was because nobody listened to similar warnings about lack of space.

But a September deadline is now in place – and there will be high political stakes if there is another failure to deliver.

Mr Williamson also said ministers were looking at expanding “bubbles” of children in the classroom from the current maximum of 15 “to include the whole class”.

Earlier, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “determined to do everything” he could to get all children back in school from September.

“We will bring forward plans on how this will happen as soon as possible,” he said.

There are separate rules for managing the threat of coronavirus in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Schools in Wales are reopening at the end of June, with only a third of pupils in class at any time, while in Scotland, schools are preparing to reopen on 11 August.

Social distancing in schools has been halved to 1m (just over 3ft) in Northern Ireland, where ministers are aiming for a full reopening of schools on 24 August.

However, head teachers have warned that parts of the Northern Ireland plan are “unrealistic and undeliverable”.

The £1bn fund to help England’s children catch up will see the most disadvantaged pupils gain access to tutors through a £350m programme in the year from September.

Primary and secondary schools will be given £650m to spend on one-to-one or group tuition for any pupils they think need it.

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