The first test for the government, set by the EPI, is that independent health advice should support the reopening plan and that this should be consistent with keeping the R rate below 1.
The second test is that the plan for returning children to school should be practically deliverable for schools, particularly if this requires children to be tested for Covid before they are allowed back into classrooms.
Also today: Starmer wants 'all schools back open on 8 March'
EPI research: Covid catch-up cash 'very modest' and 'poorly targeted'
The comments come the day before the government is expected to announce the road map for easing the coronavirus lockdown, with 8 March the day pinpointed for schools to open more widely.
Teachers have said returning all pupils to school on 8 March would be “reckless” and could risk causing another spike in Covid infection.
Natalie Perera, EPI chief executive, said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, children across the UK have missed a significant amount of time in school, and this is likely to have had a larger impact on the most disadvantaged pupils, who find it more challenging to keep up when they are not in school.
“We hope that the government will be able to announce this week a plan for the safe return to school for all children on and after 8 March, but this must meet key tests of safety and practicality. It is crucial that the government publishes the scientific advice on reopening schools in order to secure public confidence in its plans.
“We also need the prime minister to announce further, targeted, support for children – including a big increase in the pupil premium and a widening of its coverage to include more highly vulnerable children.”
Last week, EPI warned that the government’s Covid catch-up plans were “very modest” and “poorly targeted”.
David Laws, EPI executive chairman, said today that a “much bolder” plan was needed to make up for the scale of lost learning.
EPI also proposes that a further medium- and long-term plan for catching up should be announced later this year, once the scale and nature of learning loss is clearer and a range of policy options can be carefully considered.
Mr Laws said: “It would be highly desirable for all children to be back in school before Easter but this depends both on the government’s health advice and on a deliverable plan for testing children. The government will want to be confident that the return of children won't push the R rate back above 1, and that if children are to be tested before going back into the classroom, then schools can cope with the numbers involved.
“We now need to track the impact of the pandemic on learning, and develop a properly considered and fully funded plan to catch up on lost learning, which can be implemented over the medium and long term. So far, the scale of lost learning time has been hugely greater than the extra support made available by government and the prime minister will need to develop a much bolder plan if we are to avoid serious long-term costs to our younger generation from the pandemic.”