Schools in England and Wales welcome pupils back to class

31 August 2020, 22:50

Schools in England and Wales will welcome pupils back into the classroom from Tuesday
Schools in England and Wales will welcome pupils back into the classroom from Tuesday. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Schools in England and Wales are preparing to welcome pupils back into the classroom from Tuesday.

Children will be reunited with their teachers for the first time in more than five months when they return to school this week.

Last month, ministers launched a campaign telling parents it will be safe to send their children back to school at the beginning of September.

The #backtoschoolsafely campaign was endorsed by Public Health England and highlighted the measures being put in place to minimise the risk of coronavirus transmission, including staggered break times, increased hygiene and hand-washing and keeping pupils in consistent groups.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said in August that the "greatest risk" facing school-age children is not Covid-19, but instead the prospect of staying out of "irreplaceable" and "invaluable" face-to-face education.

"When you've been struggling with something in the classroom, some concept that you can't get, somebody, very probably a teacher, will say something and a light will go on; the clouds will lift and you will never forget that moment," he said.

Read more: 'Very, very, very small' risk of kids catching Covid in schools, PM reassures parents

Read more: Boris Johnson warns pupils' 'life chances' will suffer if they don't go back to school

The government has come under pressure to ensure the reopening of schools in England goes smoothly and does not push up coronavirus cases.

Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee Robert Halfon said he wanted the government and exam regulators to provide "absolute clarity" on the syllabuses so teachers know what to teach - as well as reassurance for parents and teachers that it is safe to return.

He also said schools should run tests to assess pupils' academic attainment, mental health and wellbeing - and send the results to the Department for Education and Ofqual to help determine when exams should take place next year.

"I'm not talking about nationwide exams - I think that's the last thing we need - but just some basic understanding of what catch up is needed... and to work out what delay is needed if (exams) need to be delayed," he said.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of taking a "chaotic approach" to education as he demanded Gavin Williamson show how he will "make up for the damage already done" to pupils.

He said the Education Secretary should go to Parliament to "tell us how he will protect our children's futures".

Sir Keir added that pupils need to be "brought up to speed" and the government needs to "mitigate against the ongoing risk from the pandemic".

The Labour leader said this week would bring a mixture of excitement and anxiety for millions of families across England.

"Excitement for children who will be back in the classroom for the first time in months. But anxiety for teachers and parents about a year ahead that is full of uncertainty because of a pandemic that continues to cast its shadow over children's education.

"I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary dedication of our teachers and school staff who have worked tirelessly over the summer to make sure schools can reopen safely.

"Labour want and expect children to be back at school. Every day that schools were closed was a day of opportunity, learning and support lost. This situation was worsened by the exams fiasco and the Government's chaotic approach to education.

"We cannot keep repeating those same mistakes. Young people's futures cannot be held back by the Conservatives' incompetence."

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