Ministers are contemplating a phased return of pupils which would see primary schools returning to the classroom first. The Department for Education is also considering partially reopening secondary schools so that children in Years 10 and 12, who have exams next year, return as soon as possible.
Schools in areas across England which have less Covid-19 cases may also reopen before those with the highest and fastest-rising infection rates.
Whitehall insiders disclosed the potential plans to the Sun newspaper, insisting that schools will be “the first” thing to reopen when lockdown restrictions are eased.
However, they also stressed that the final decision would be ‘led by the science’, with the government prioritising reducing the rate of infection and easing pressure on the NHS.
Leaders within the education sector have warned that even plans to reopen schools after the Easter holidays would be ‘optimistic’, with ministers said to be rethinking a post-February half-term start.
Prime Minister (PM), Boris Johnson, is facing increasing pressure to provide a roadmap detailing how the government plans to reopen schools post lockdown. However, Johnson and his cabinet seem reluctant to outline any plans just yet to avoid another damaging policy U-turn.
It is thought that ‘all options’ remain on the table, but the focus will be on getting primary schools up and running first as remote learning is much more challenging with younger years students.
In spite of cross-party pressure on the PM, a government source told the Times this weekend that England is expected to remain in the current home-schooling set-up ‘for the long haul’ amid fears over new Covid-19 variants – some of which are thought to be up to 70% more infectious than the original strain.
Whatever course of action Number 10 chooses, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has promised to give pupils, students and teachers at least two-weeks’ notice before schools reopen.