DfE to hold crunch back-to-school talks today

Education secretary says teachers' unions will be briefed on the 'scientific advice underpinning our approach' before meeting with top officials to hammer out a school return plan

Tes Reporter

Coronavirus: The government is to hold crunch talks with the teaching unions about reopening schools

Education union leaders will today meet with the chief medical officer and other experts to hear the reasons for the government's push to reopen schools in England from 1 June.

The meeting with Professor Chris Whitty and other government scientific and medical experts is expected to be followed by talks later today with top DfE officials to attempt to agree plans for phased school reopening from June 1st.

England is the only part of the UK asking schools to begin phased reopenings from the start of next month, raising fears among teachers' unions about the risks of infection from the coronavirus.

Sending children back to school will be encouraged but voluntary.

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Writing in The Daily Mail, education secretary Gavin Williamson has offered reasons for the move, and says he has arranged today's meeting to brief teachers' representatives on "the scientific advice underpinning our approach".

"The best place for youngsters to learn is in school and I have wanted to get more children back there as soon as possible," he writes, saying that while parents had done a good job in helping children to learn, "nothing can take the place of a teacher".

Coronavirus: 'Safety comes first' in reopening schools

Mr Williamson says that if the scientific advice is that a "limited number" of children could be sent back to school, it is his duty to allow this to happen.

"Of course safety comes first, but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child's education from not getting them back in the classroom," he writes.

Mr Williamson says younger children would be at the head of the queue to return to school first, since "the first few years of a child's education are so important" for developing social skills and starting to learn the basics of an education.

Pupils transitioning to secondary school, and those approaching GCSEs and A levels would also take priority.

The education secretary assures teachers and parents that the envisaged 1 June return would be the first phase of a "controlled and careful" return to schooling which would involve a range of protective measures.

These would include keeping class sizes small, making sure children stayed within small groups, observing strict hygiene and cleaning measures, and having breaks and mealtimes staggered to reduce crowding.

Mr Williamson was writing after Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said a "wider opening of schools, too early, poses a lot of unanswered questions about the risks in poor communities".

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