Schools are to be commended for remaining open during this crisis for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. It is also welcome that many schools have now begun to welcome more children back. But I acknowledge that teachers and parents have a range of concerns and want greater certainty.
Many people have contacted me about the next steps in wider opening. In particular, parents want to know about the health risks (and will, I am sure, be reassured by the testing which has been offered) and are also worried about children missing out on learning. I share this concern. We must be imaginative as we support remote education and open minded about how best to support children during the summer months and next academic year.
Everyone is in agreement that the safety of children and teachers must come first. It is most welcome that progress continues to be made in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, and as a result primary schools in England are welcoming back children in key year groups – nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. As of 15 June, secondary schools can welcome back students in Year 10 and Year 12, limited to a quarter of the cohort at any one time.
Responding to the five tests the NEU has set as prerequisites to reopening schools, I am pleased to say that we now have much lower numbers of COVID-19 cases and a reduced transmission rate. Guidance has been set out on how to implement protective measures in schools. Ministers have confirmed that all those children eligible to attend and members of their household will have access to testing if they display symptoms of coronavirus. The guidance also covers the actions to take if anyone develops symptoms or tests positive for coronavirus, as well as advice for shielded and clinically vulnerable pupils and staff, and those living with a shielded or critically vulnerable person.
I understand that not all schools were able to open on 1 June, but am glad to see that as of 8 June over 70 per cent of primary schools had reopened to the target year groups. Ministers will continue to support and work with the sector to ensure that any schools experiencing difficulties are able to open more widely as soon as possible.
It is the intention to bring all children back to school in September.
I have been in touch with colleagues at the Department for Education and understand further announcements are due shortly.