Coronavirus: Social distancing in schools ‘impossible’

Katharine Birbalsingh, head of the UK’s ‘strictest school’, says it is a ‘lie’ to claim that social distancing could be observed in schools

William Stewart

Katharine Birbalsingh, headteacher of Michaela Community School, dubbed the country's 'strictest' headteacher

A prominent headteacher has called for an end to the “pretence” that social distancing in schools is possible.

Katharine Birbalsingh, head and founder of the Michaela free school in North West London, spoke out this morning as speculation about when and how schools can safely re-open in England continues.

Asked about possible measures to reduce the risk, she warned: “Social distancing in schools is simply impossible. We are considered to be the strictest school in Britain and even we would find it impossible."

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The head's warning came on the morning that it was reported that ministers were considering beginning a phased re-opening of schools as early as next month.

She said: “We have got corridors that are just over a metre in width so the children when passing each other obviously touch each other.

“When they’re in the classrooms coming in and out, first of all, classrooms are small, in all schools, so the children are all sat right next to each other, they have to hand out books and pens and paper when they get up from their desks to walk out of the classroom they touch each other.

“They are also children, we need to remember. They are all going to be together: the younger they are, the more difficult it is.”

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Ms Birbalsingh added: “Schools will open at some point. But what I don’t want is for people to perpetuate the lie, and it is a lie, that social distancing [in schools] is possible, it just isn’t.”

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, told the same programme that the government should look at the issue of PPE in schools. 

He also warned that: “Social distancing is a major challenge in many educational settings…the government has not been sufficiently clear about that.

“Perhaps schools will need to be remodelled in the sense of fewer children being on site in school at any one time."

But Ms Birbalsingh said: “What shouldn’t be said is for us all to be told that it is absolutely fine and we can do social distancing in schools and we pretend – it’s the pretence I can’t bear – that social distancing is possible.

“From the point of view of a headteacher, if you have to send home all staff with underlying issues, if you have to send home staff with a cough, you are probably going to have fewer than half your staff in your school.

“You have got to think about the kind of chaos that then ensures when children don’t have their own teacher.”


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William Stewart

William Stewart

William Stewart is News editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @wstewarttes

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