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Government faces criticism for schools reopening

Published: Tuesday 2nd June 2020

Schools are reopening across England for the first time in months. As such, debate around the decision continues. The government declared Reception and Years 1 & 6 students would return to school from June 1st, with secondary schools and others expected to reopen in some form from June 15.

Adding to the confusion, Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to make a decision. Furthermore, Scotland has announced none of its schools will be reopening until August at the earliest. However, the decision to reopen has come under fire from the National Education Union (NEU) and National Association of Head Teacher (NAHT). Speaking to the BBC, The Guardian and most of the UK’s media, Dr. Mary Bousted, Joint Secretary of the NEU called for a rethink of the government’s policy. She pointed to the dangers of teachers working without adequate PPE and social distancing, stating:

“We’re asking teachers to go into schools at a time when the rate of infection is still the fifth highest incidence in the world, and when there is still not a fully-functioning test, trace and isolate system in place.”

Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of the NAHT, agreed, telling the BBC that its members were also concerned regarding the reopening of schools, stating,

“There is still no proof it will be a wise thing to do.”

Young male student wears a protective face mask and looks at the camera whilst in a classroom.

The argument for schools reopening

However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson defended the decision to reopen schools, saying scientific evidence supported a “phased, cautious return”. The government also points to the importance of schools reopening for children’s mental well being, particularly those classed as disadvantaged. The government’s decision was supported by Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Viner said:

“Covid-19 generally barely affects children and young people and actually we’ve shown that they are about as half as susceptible. There is no doubt in my mind for children themselves, the balances are clearly in favour of going back to school.”

Parents remain unsure

A poll at the end of May by The Guardian newspaper revealed that parents remain divided. Regarding their children returning to school, parents cited mixed messages and poor communication as the main reasons behind their anxiety. The poll found that 54% of secondary school parents and 43% of primary school parents remained apprehensive regarding the reopening of schools.

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