Boris Johnson said on Sunday that the Tories would push ahead with plans to get more children in schools from 1 June—Monday of next week.
It will have infuriated the growing numbers of education workers, parents and students who oppose the plan.
And it goes against advice by scientists last week that delaying a wider reopening of schools would drastically slash the risk of spreading the virus.
Johnson admitted that it “may not be possible” for all schools to begin wider reopening on 1 June.
This is because some head teachers and local authorities may deem it unsafe—and because school workers may refuse to go back.
Yet Johnson said he wants all schools to begin reopening as soon as possible.
There is widespread opposition to the Tory plan.
A BBC Breakfast survey last week found that just 20 out of 99 councils that responded were advising schools to open more widely on 1 June. Another 15 said they would not advise schools to reopen to more children. And 68 authorities said they couldn’t guarantee reopening for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
The NEU union reiterated its opinion that reopening from 1 June is not safe following Johnson’s speech.
A Sunday Mirror editorial said that, unless the union’s five safety tests are met, “no school should open to more children on June 1”.
Parents have joined huge online meetings to voice their concerns about the plan.
The fact that black and minority ethnic (BAME) people are four times more likely to die from the disease is adding to the anger.
Parent Caroline has a child in year one in a school in Redbridge, east London. “A lot of parents are concerned about children and staff,” she told a parents’ meeting on Thursday. “The school has a high number of BAME people and my overall feeling is it’s not safe.”
The meeting attracted over 580 people—a sign of the anxiety that exists among many parents.
Parent Habiba pointed out that a lot of BAME children live in multi‑generational households, pushing up the risk of infection. And parent Jocelyn added, “This is racism.
“You need to take the lead,” she said, addressing councillors in the meeting. “If not, the community will take the lead as the community is suffering.”
Some 185 parents joined a meeting in Coventry last week, and 140 in Hackney, east London.
Coventry teacher Chris described how the meeting had transformed the situation.
“The local authority has massively shifted to now agreeing schools in Coventry should not be planning for a 1 June opening,” he said.
The fight is on to stop the Tories putting thousands more lives at risk.
Their crisis—and the scale of anger at government handling of coronavirus—means that we can win it.
Distancing measures will damage young children
The government published its guidance on reopening early years settings from 1 June on Sunday—before a bank holiday and a week of half term.
Its recommended measures are impossible to achieve—and trying to meet them will distress very young children.
The guidance recommends that small groups of children be kept apart from each other and that there be “physical distancing” between staff and children.
But it is impossible to socially distance from babies and toddlers, who require close personal care and help with things such as going to the toilet.
The guidance says children under two need 3.5 square metres squared per child, two year olds 2.5 square metres and those aged three need 2.3 square metres.
It says “area dividers” and “floor markings” could help keep children and staff apart from each other.
This conjures up images of France, where very young children have been placed in squares in playgrounds far apart from each other.
It also advises the removal of all soft toys and where possible soft furnishings, including rugs, bean bags and pillows.
The Tories want young children back at schools and nurseries so they can push parents back to work.
But it will be emotionally damaging for children—and risks spreading Covid-19.
Childcare and early years workers have said that childcare settings could be the “next care homes” in terms of virus cases.
Pre-school manager Lyndsey said, “Private nurseries and other settings are being urged to open our doors for ALL children.
“If children can be asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19, how will we know—without testing—that we are infection-free?”
It’s not safe, say scientists
The Independent Sage science committee said last week that it will not be safe to reopen schools in England to wider numbers of children from 1 June.
It said more time is needed to set up tracking a nd tracing procedures to tackle any new coronavirus outbreak.
The committee is separate from the Tories’ official Sage advisers.
These helpfully advised on Friday that evidence about the infectivity of children is “inconclusive”.
Chair of the independent committee, former government chief scientist Sir David King, said the risk to children would be halved if they returned on 15 June instead.
And delaying a wider return until September would reduce the risks even further. King said that the evidence showed “that 1 June is simply too early to go back”.
“By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike,” he said.
The government’s official Sage group of scientists modelled nine scenarios for wider school reopening.
The Tory plan to reopen entire classes in primary school years was not among them.