The government has decided to send children back to school in England starting on the first of June. The plan is a phased return, in compliance with social distancing, hoping to minimise damage to the child’s long-term education without exposing them or their families to coronavirus. First to return are the nursery schoolers, and early-year providers as well as the oldest and youngest in primary school (years 1 and 6) and the top end of secondary school (years 10 and 12). Special schools, those that cater to young people with disabilities or behavioural issues, are expected to work towards a phased return with no aim towards specific age groups.
Studies have shown children are less likely to become sick if infected with coronavirus and then are likely to have less intense symptoms. Relatively few children have been admitted to ICU with coronavirus, but there are still concerns over their ability to abide by social distancing measures and the chances of their being another vector or transmitter of the virus.
Teaching unions and doctors unions have spoken against the return to schools. Patrick Roach, general secretary for NASUWT, has been quoted as saying “No information was provided to change the widely held view that the evidence base for opening schools from 1 June is weak”. The British Medical Association announced that they were “completely aligned” with the teachers, with an open letter from the association’s council chair saying “Until we have got case numbers much lower, we should not consider reopening schools.”
England is the only country in the United Kingdom to ask students whose parents aren’t key workers, to return so soon. The Scottish government has confirmed that their students will return in August, as they usually would for the beginning of the new school year. The Welsh government has not set a date so far, saying they are working with unions, scientists, head teachers and councils, and that they expect to have an update next week. Peter Weir, the Education Minister for Northern Ireland, has said that the return to school there would include “limited provision for key cohort years in August, followed by a phased provision for all pupils at the beginning of September”. There has been lots of talk about “reopening schools” from government and media but they never completely closed. Many have moved online, and more have stayed physically open to care for the children of key workers. Even as a 6th Form student whose A levels are technically over, my first exam would have been last week, I have received hundreds of emails from my teachers. These include links to resources I could use to maintain or further my learning, reminders that the staff are still there to support us, and virtual assemblies and personal reassurances from the Headmaster himself. From the small sample I found in an online group – this is the case up and down the country.