Former OFSTED chief inspector says it is 'right time' to open schools

24 May 2020, 12:48

Schools have been closed since March
Schools have been closed since March. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Former Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said it is time to reopen schools, but warned it is "critical" that parents are confident it is safe to do so.

Sir Michael said it is up to Government to decide what measures should be in place to protect schools, and give the task of policing them to local authorities.

He also emphasised that parents must have trust in schools that their children will be safe.

"It is all right opening up schools but if parents lack that confidence they are not going to send (children) in," he said.

"It seems to me that the Government have got a real part to play here making sure that parents have the evidence."

Schools across the country have been closed to the majority of pupils since 20 March, just days before the UK officially went into lockdown.

The government plan to get children back into classrooms in England on 1 June, however many have expressed their concern about sending pupils back to school so soon.

Many parents are concerned about reopening schools
Many parents are concerned about reopening schools. Picture: PA

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Speaking on Sky's Sophie Ridge On Sunday programme, Sir Michael said he understood why some teachers are reluctant to reopen schools, saying: "Social distancing with five-year-olds is a bit like herding cats.

"It is really important that the Government get the confidence of parents and teachers and they should lay down very clear guidance and rules under which schools should operate.

"It is no good saying we are going to let schools do what they want because some schools will do it extremely well and other schools won't.

"Some schools will ensure there is a triage system in place, there is temperature testing and classrooms are intensively cleaned and so on.

"Other schools might not be doing that so it is really important that the Government is very prescriptive in what they would expect schools to do."

Sir Michael LAO said local authorities should be given the responsibility of policing safety standards once schools reopen.

"The Government really should have spent that last three months preparing the ground well, holding meetings with the parent and teacher associations to make sure all the facts are there.

"Transparency is absolutely critical and families who don't necessarily read all the research from the research bodies need something to go on to make that balanced judgment, and I am not sure they have received that."

Sir Michael said it might be necessary to consider cancelling summer holidays and for some pupils to resit the year.

He said research showed that disadvantaged students had suffered the most from the shutdown.

"(Schools) have really got to ensure that recovery programmes are put in place - that might mean working in holiday periods, it might mean weekend work with examinations due," he said.

He said the UK could see a "lost generation" of young people as a result of the shutdown.

"It is a great tragedy because our education system has made huge progress in the last few years," he said.

Sir Michael said crisis in the education system could be averted if head teachers were committed to "recovering lost ground".

"That means convincing teachers to work the extra hours, come in at weekends and holiday periods and really intensive work they do with youngsters, particularly in examination groups," he said.