Boris Johnson says 'watch this space' on schools' social distancing

19 June 2020, 13:39

Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School
Boris Johnson joins a socially distanced lesson during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School. Picture: PA

By Megan White

The Prime Minister has said to "watch this space" when asked whether social distancing restrictions could be cut to help schools to return in September.

There has been discussion that the two-metre rule could be reduced to one in a bid to get children back into classrooms.

Speaking to broadcasters during a Hertfordshire school visit on Friday, Mr Johnson said it was "absolutely" his aspiration that pupils of all ages will be back in the classroom for a full five days a week in September.

His comments came as the coronavirus alert level was reduced from four to three.

The PM said: "Of course, on the social distancing measures, as I've said, 'watch this space'.

"We will be putting in further changes as the science allows.

Boris Johnson said to "watch this space" on social distancing in schools
Boris Johnson said to "watch this space" on social distancing in schools. Picture: PA

"I think that's what the public also wants to see, they want to see us working with the reality."

The Prime Minister said changes were likely to be made to social distancing regulations as a result of the coronavirus transmission rate reducing.

"What you've got to look at is the overall incidence in the country as a whole and there is no question it is coming down," said Mr Johnson, when speaking to broadcasters at the school in Hemel Hempstead.

"A couple of weeks ago I was saying it would be one in 1,000 (who have Covid-19), probably now it is one in 2,000, perhaps a bit less - one in 1,760 or so.

"So it is really diminishing among us all and that's the most important thing.

"That will allow us, as the alert level comes down, to start making some progress, as I've said, on our plan and on social distancing measures.

The PM visited a school in Hemel Hempstead on Friday
The PM visited a school in Hemel Hempstead on Friday. Picture: PA

"So when we go forward to July 4, which is the next big stage in the plan, we hope there will be more guidance out very, very shortly that will help people, help businesses, help hospitality to prepare for that and how to implement social distancing in a safe way, while also enabling people to go back to shops, hospitality, restaurants and everything else."

The PM said it was "absolutely" his intention that children of all ages should be able to return to school by the autumn on a five-day-a-week basis.

He added: "Let me be very clear - I want a world in which, as far as possible, provided we can make classrooms safe and I think we can, I want every child, every pupil, every student, back in September.

"I'm sure we can get it done."

"We have to start thinking of a world in which we are less apprehensive about this disease.

"Yes it has been a horrible shock for the country and for the world, and I think the British people have worked incredibly hard to drive it down.

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"But we are starting to make some real progress with test and trace, with treatments for the disease, and I hope, as we go forward into the autumn, people will be much, much more confident."

His comments came as the Government's £1 billion plan to help pupils catch up with learning came under fire from education leaders.

Head teachers say they were not consulted on the details of the scheme which will see the most disadvantaged children in England given access to funds to pay for tutors, while the majority of the funding will be shared across schools to help pupils from all backgrounds affected by the lockdown.

College and nursery leaders have criticised the Government for leaving their pupils out after it announced that £650 million would only be given to state primary and secondary schools for the 2020-21 academic year.

A further £350 million will be spent on a one-year subsidised national tutoring programme targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools.

But sector leaders say the funding will not reach young children in nurseries and college students who are most "in need of support" amid the pandemic.

Explaining what parents can expect from "catch-up" funding announced on Friday for pupils in England, Mr Johnson said: "The funds are broken down so some of it is for schools to decide exactly what they want to spend on depending what their priority is.

"But the thing that I think really matters is to get some more direct tuition, some one-to-one tuition for pupils, pupils who need some remedial help perhaps who really need help because they have lost time, they have lost time to learn over the last few months.

"And then also help for kids who have promise, but don't normally get it.

"This is one of the things we really want to develop as a Government - really helping schools to give more direct focus, more one-to-one tutorial help."

Asked if everyone would see one-to-one assistance, the PM said: "We don't want to impose a model that is too rigid on the schools, the teachers who are doing a fantastic job.

"We want to give them the tools to give more help where that is appropriate."