Returning all pupils to schools on Monday 8 March "seems a reckless course of action" that could risk causing another spike in Covid infections, nine organisations representing teachers and school leaders have warned today.
They urged the prime minister to commit to the 8 March date only if the scientific evidence is clear that it is safe, and to go no further than a phased return to allow time to assess the impact before going on to the next phase.
The statement is signed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), GMB, the NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, National Governance Association (NGA), Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), Unison and Unite.
It says: "We are increasingly concerned that the government is minded to order a full return of all pupils on Monday 8 March in England.
"This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education, and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.
"The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. Scientists have expressed different views on this point. What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one-fifth of the population.
"This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step."
The signatories called for a cautious approach with schools and colleges reopening phased over time, allowing public health experts to assess its impact.
They insisted that their warning is not meant to stand in the way of schools reopening, but to ensure that such reopening is sustainable.
The statement reads: "We are committed to bringing all children and young people back into the classroom as soon as possible. However, it is counterproductive if there is a danger of causing another surge in the virus, and the potential for a further period of lockdown.
"Wider opening must be safe and sustainable."