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Plans for all primary school pupils in England to return before summer look set to be abandoned

Education secretary Gavin Williamson will update MPs on Tuesday

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 09 June 2020 08:42 BST
Some primary school pupils went back to school earlier this month
Some primary school pupils went back to school earlier this month (PA)

Plans for all primary schools children to return to school in England before the summer holidays are set to be abandoned by the government due to concerns over social distancing.

It comes after some schools began a phased return of pupils on 1 June – including reception, year one and year six – almost two months after Boris Johnson ordered the closures of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Under proposals to re-open schools, the government’s plan was “for all primary school children to return to schools before the summer for a month if feasible” – a position it said would be kept under review.

On Tuesday, the Department for Education (DfE) said it was still the “ambition” for a return of primary schools before July, but added Gavin Williamson will provide an update on the plans later today.

According to the BBC, the education secretary will tell MPs in a Commons statement that primary schools will no longer have to prepare for a full return of children before the summer holidays due to social distancing requirements.

Speaking on Monday at the No 10 coronavirus briefing, the health secretary Matt Hancock also said that secondary schools won’t open until September “at the earliest” – highlighting uncertainty over the infection rate and the safety of teachers and pupils.

“What we have to do – not only in schools, but right across the board – is work out how we can get the other things that matter going,” Mr Hancock said.

“Like schools, like hospitality – especially outdoor hospitality, like retail. And get them going safely and carefully, in a way that doesn’t lead to the spread of the virus, and that is going to require ingenuity.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said she was “really disappointed” for the children and parents who were expecting to return to school before the summer holidays.

“But again this really is the children who are missing out here paying the penalty. We know the vast majority of children will not go back to school now before the summer – huge educational gaps increasing,” she said.

In a separate interview, Ms Longfield said ministers should look at what Wales is doing in regarding to a phase re-opening of schools, adding: "First of all, when we look at Wales, they're running a very different model where actually children are coming into school for a third of the week before the summer, which I think is interesting and Government should look at,” she said.

"And the other is that children will still need to learn during this period and there will need to be mitigation to compensate for the fact they're not in school through online learning but also potentially catch up and summer camps to help them emotionally.”

Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Committee, also called for ministers to reconsider. "I think the government should definitely think again on this and continue with a phased reopening of schools because I think too many disadvantaged children are not getting an education,” he said.

"We could have an epidemic of educational poverty and be damaging the life chances of hundreds of thousands of young people."

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