Nick Abbot 10pm - 1am
Teachers should do their 'duty', Education Secretary demands
15 May 2020, 07:18
Educations leaders will today hear the Government's reasons behind the push to reopen schools in England from June.
The Education Secretary has urged teaching unions to do their "duty" and drop objections to children going back to school next month.
Union leaders will meet with the Chief Medical officer on Friday to hear the reasons why children should return to school.
England is the only part of the UK planning to send children back to school from the start of next month, a move which has raised fears within teaching unions about the ongoing risk of coronavirus.
Sending children back to school will be encouraged but voluntary.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson used an article in the Daily Mail newspaper to set out his reasons for the move, and says he has arranged today's meeting to brief teachers' representatives on "the scientific advice underpinning our approach".
"The best place for youngsters to learn is in school and I have wanted to get more children back there as soon as possible," he wrote, saying while parents had done a good job in helping children learn, "nothing can take the place of a teacher".
The UK's leading education unions have called on the Government to "step back" from its proposed plan to start reopening schools in England from 1 June.
In a joint statement, the AEP, GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, NSEAD, Prospect, Unison and Unite unions said: "We all want schools to reopen, but that should only happen when it is safe to do so."
Mr Williamson said if scientific advice said a "limited number" of children could be sent back to school, it was his duty to allow this to happen.
"Of course safety comes first but we must also be aware of the potential damage to a child's education from not getting them back in the classroom," he wrote.
Mr Williamson said younger children would be at the head of the queue to return to school first, since "the first few years of a child's education are so important" for developing social skills and starting to learn the basics of an education.
Pupils transitioning to secondary school, and those approaching GCSEs and A levels would also take priority.
The Education Secretary assured teachers and parents the envisaged June 1 returns would be the first phase of a "controlled and careful" return to schooling which would involve a range of protective measures.
These would include keeping class sizes small, making sure children stayed within small groups, observing strict hygiene and cleaning measures, and having breaks and mealtimes staggered to reduce crowding.
Mr Williamson was writing after National Education Union joint secretary Mary Bousted said a "wider opening of schools, too early, poses a lot of unanswered questions about the risks in poor communities".