Education Secretary assures parents about sending children back to school amid union row

16 May 2020, 17:33

Mr Williamson said the measures were in line with other European countries
Mr Williamson said the measures were in line with other European countries. Picture: PA

By Matt Drake

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has sought to assure parents about sending children back to school as he claims plans are "in line with European countries".

Speaking at today's daily press briefing on coronavirus, Mr Williamson said full and detailed guidance had been issued after working closely with people in the testing sector.

He continued: "School staff can already be tested for the virus, but from the first of June we'll extend that to cover children and their families if any of them develop symptoms.

He said the measures were in line with other European countries in terms of getting schools, colleges and nurseries back.

Gavin Williamson said the government looked at other countries' plans to reopen schools, highlighting Denmark as an example of how is it was carried out well.

"Together these measures will create an inherently safer system where the risk of transmission is substantially reduced for children, their teachers and also their families."

"It goes without saying that we will be carefully monitoring the impact of this first phase."

He praised teachers for "going above and beyond the call of duty" for continuing to teach children of key workers, as well as making sure resources were available for children at home.

"You have simply been outstanding and we are so grateful for what you've done," he said. "We have been quite clear all along that we'd only start inviting more children when our five key tests have been met. That position has not changed nor will it."

But he added: "We can now start the planning for very limited return to school for some pupils potentially as early as next month."

It comes amid concerns among teachers' unions about the plans to bring children back into the classroom.

The British Medical Association (BMA) - the UK's largest doctors' union - sent a letter to the National Education Union on Friday that the number coronavirus infections remained too high for them to be reopened.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries responded to a question about whether the Government would feel comfortable ignoring the advice of the BMA.

She said: "As a doctor advising Government, I would be very upset if they're not listening to doctors - but that might be for me to cope with."

The Medical Officer added that Sage has input from experts across multiple fields, and said that there was a very strong input from doctors.

She continued: "Obviously it's important that if other groups, whether it be the BMA or other medical groups, have additional information they feel may have been missed or needs to come into that consideration, I'm sure Sage and Government would be very keen to see that."

Dr Harries also said that the evidence indicates children do not get as ill with Covid-19 as adults.

She cited recent "crude" data from the Office of National Statistics that shows teachers have a lower death rate in comparison to other professions, though the lockdown may have impacted this data.