Primary pupils are back in some schools in England – but surveys suggest half of parents might have kept their children at home

Primary pupils are back in some schools in England – but surveys suggest half of parents might have kept their children at home.

There is a very mixed local picture in how schools are reopening, and in some areas schools will remain shut.

Children in Reception, Years 1 and 6 are able to return, with many having been out of school for 10 weeks.

It comes as lockdown measures are eased in England, including groups of six people being allowed to meet outside.

Schools have remained open throughout the coronavirus restrictions for the children of key workers and vulnerable children, but on Monday they are inviting back millions more primary pupils.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said children “will be with their teachers and friends again”.

The view from the first morning back

BBC News education reporter Judith Burns describes the return to school:

“You look like you’ve grown,” says teacher Catherine Hughes to a reception pupil who hasn’t been in school since March.

“Are you excited to be back?” Helen Frostick head of St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic primary school in West London asks another.

About half of those who could have returned have taken up their places, alongside 15 children of key workers who have continued to come into school throughout the lockdown.

The classrooms have been completely reorganised, with desks in rows, facing forwards, instead of pushed together into big tables.

There’s lots of hand washing and the windows are open to let in fresh air.

The school has split each class into two separate bubbles with one half in on Monday and Tuesday and the other on Thursday and Friday, which allows for a deep clean on Wednesdays.

In the Reception class each table is separate, with its own tray of equipment so that the children don’t need to get out of their seats so much, says teaching assistant, Clare Gordon.

“It really is best for the family,” says mum Sophia as she brings her two sons to school.

She has managed to do some home schooling with the boys over the past few weeks but it hasn’t always been easy.

“I was 10% worried but 90% thinking it was the right thing to do,” says Julia, who has just dropped off her son.

“The main thing is for normality and for his mental health. He needs the interaction with his friends. He’s been begging to come back,” she says.

Staying home

But many families are keeping their children at home suggests a survey from the National Foundation for Educational Research, based on the views of 1,200 school leaders.

  • 46% of parents will keep children at home
  • 50% of parents in schools in disadvantaged areas will keep children at home
  • 25% of teachers are likely to be absent because of health issues for themselves or their families.

Jane Reid, a parent from York, said it was still not safe for her son to go back to school, saying: “It’s a definite no from me.

“Plus, the contradictory information is infuriating. I can take him to school, but can’t get his hair cut.”

“How can I send them to school now, knowing it will be impossible for teachers to implement social distancing rules properly?” asked Valerie Brooker from Haslemere in Surrey.

In other developments in England:

  • Those shielding since lockdown began 10 weeks ago will be allowed outdoors with a family member or to meet one other friend
  • Groups of up to six people from different households can meet in parks and private gardens, as long as they remain two metres apart
  • People can exercise outside with up to five others from different households
  • Domestic competitive sport will be allowed behind closed doors
  • Outdoor markets and car showrooms can reopen, provided they have Covid-related measures in place
  • People are banned from staying at another address overnight unless it is for a specified reason, such as work or attending a funeral. But they can leave their homes without needing a “reasonable excuse”
  • The Association of Directors of Public Health, which represents council health figures, warned in the Guardian that restrictions were being relaxed too quickly as “the public is not keeping to social distancing as it was”.

In Wales, people from two different households can meet each other outdoors. Groups of four to six people who are not in the same household can meet outdoors in Northern Ireland. And in Scotland members of two different households are already allowed to meet outdoors.


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