• Most likely date for children to go back
• Some schools 'may reopen next month'
• Primary pupils will return first
• Tandem approach to opening being considered
• Summer holidays could be scrapped
On Wednesday, nurseries and primary schools in Denmark opened their doors once again for the first time since March 12. The Danish government is the first in Europe to relax coronavirus restrictions on education.
UK schools officially closed on March 20 for children other than those of key workers. So are we potentially eight days behind?
Based on the 33-day school closure timeline, our pre-school and primary children could be heading back as soon as 23rd April.
Could they? Should they?
Is it even safe for them to do so?
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said last weekend that school closures will have a detrimental impact on pupil progress but will not rule a return until his scientific advisors deem it safe. Meanwhile the new Labour leader Kier Starmer said the UK should prioritise reopening schools due to fears about growing inequality between pupils as a result of school shutdowns.
There is mounting pressure on the government to reopen primary schools before the May half term, as disastrous budget figures forecast a 35% shrink in the economy due to the CV lockdown and that restrictions cannot feasibly be lifted or relaxed until workers' children are back in full-time education.
The first likely date at present is 11th May – the first Monday after the May Bank Holiday on Friday 8th. Normally the early May bank holiday falls on the first Monday of May. But in 2020, the government announced the change of date to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Yes – it’s possible for our youngest pupils. With the current absence of a clear exit strategy from lockdown (or Lexit as some are starting to call it), it’s hard to predict but Denmark saw 650,000 children return to day care and primaries while universities, churches, cinemas and shopping centres remained closed. Denmark also maintain a ban on congregations of more than 100 people which they expect to remain in place until August.
UPDATE / 6pm / 16.4.20 –– UK government announces extension to lockdown for 'at least a further three weeks'
Headteachers at the UK's two biggest headteacher unions said schools could possibly open on June 1. Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders said on 12 April: “When the decision to cancel exams was made, it was thought that the peak of hospital cases would be in mid-May. It now looks as though the pandemic is at its height. That opens a window for schools to reopen before the summer holidays. That will not be before the May half-term, so we are looking at around June 1.”
No, this is unlikely. It's thought that primary children will return first as they are least able to cope with independent study and school presents important childcare for the youngest members of society who cannot be left alone while parents work. Secondly, reports released today (16th April) say plans for a regionalised reopening of schools is being considered by government.
The Times reported today that a “regionalised approach” was being discussed starting with those in areas outside coronavirus hotspots such as London and Birmingham. The newspaper says Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, wants schools to reopen “in tandem” with changes to government advice about people going back to work
The first city to go into lockdown, Wuhan in central China where the virus started, has still not reopened schools three months after restrictions came into place. On Tuesday this week (14 April), Austria opened thousands of shops such as garden centres and DIY stores and Italy opened a limited number of shops and businesses but schools remain closed.
Critics say that the strategy is risky as it opens up the possibility of a surge in infections. But the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has said he will not re-open schools until scientific advice suggests that it is safe to do so. Certainly when children return, schools will be given guidelines on maintaining social distancing, wherever possible, and a heightened hand washing regime. Many school leaders say this is impossible and have raised serious concerns that, while young children are in the low risk category for becoming ill with the infection, teaching and school staff are not and a managed return should include adequate PPE for all.
My Child Will Not Be A Covid-19 Guinea Pig
–– Judit, Mum of 9-year-old daughter
In Demark, some parents have opposed the reopening of schools, citing health concerns. A Facebook group called ‘My child will not be a COVID-19 Guinea Pig' already has over 40,000 members and Danish school principals have reported a number of pupils being kept at home. Maintaining social distance is challenging among the youngest members of society who may not fully grasp the concept or forget on an hour-by-hour basis when lost in play. The mother who set up the Facebook group says: “I am not convinced by the letter we received from the school listing the additional safety measures they’re implementing.” The option to home school is open to all parents according to government homeschool guidelines.
Attendance guidelines are highly likely to be relaxed based on the flexible approach being implemented across many area of education including the appeals process. This is not only due to the ongoing possibility of illness within families but also due to impact of bereavement and mental health issues. It’s unclear, however, how long the school register will remain unmonitored by Ofsted and the Department for Education and schools penalised. Children with a compromised immune system or underlying health issues should speak to their school before a planned return.
Every education expert, government minister and teacher knows that there will be different levels of learning going on at home. While much has been written about the lack of adult help and access to technology in the homes of disadvantaged children, even children from families engaged in homeschooling will see different levels of discipline and expected focus. One reassuring message for all parents is that the British education is repetitive. Dr Dan O’Hare, an educational psychologist at the University of Bristol said this week: “The worry is that children need a lot of ‘learning' - but the curriculum is pretty repetitive and they’ll have covered it before, and will cover it again. Schools have been pretty good at saying that - this is not school at home.”
The idea of returning to work before lockdown ends is worse than a visit from Ofsted
–– Primary School Teacher
Many are concerned about being at risk and lack of clarity on how they should manage the school day. Headteachers who say staff have been “brilliant so far” are concerned staff morale will plummet if they are asked to work when the rest of the country stays in lockdown. One primary school teacher expressed her concerns about the schools reopening: “We haven’t been offered tests. We haven’t been given a great deal of guidance. There is so much anxiety and stress – it’s worse than a visit from Ofsted.” Another said, “It should be secondary schools that go back before primary, surely, because primary children are going to be a lot more difficult to control… and keep two metres apart.”
A return to the normal school day seems certain in the light of current UK government priorities and the back-to-school actions of other countries.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, announced this week that schools should consider opening in some way over the summer holidays so children can catch up and their families can get back to work. The Commissioner added that that schools could be vital for families during the six-week summer holiday as the country works to recover from the coronavirus lockdown and schools could bring in play, sports and youth workers to help supervise pupils. The National Education Union has issued advice to teachers saying it had “major practical and contractual concerns” about the reasonableness of such plans. While Margaret Morrissey, founder of the pressure group Parents Outloud, said this week: “At the moment schools are open and providing online work. After this is over, we all, including children, need real holidays. Cancelling the summer holidays will cause more confusion and disruption. We should aim for term starting in the first week in September and life going back to normal.”