Most of England’s primary schools have reopened on Monday – amid rows over whether pupils should be returning with the current COVID restrictions
A joint letter from education unions has called for a “pause” in reopening primary schools, accusing the government of “creating chaos”.
Head teachers warned of a “confusing picture” with some schools staying shut, after union safety warnings.
The Department for Education said closing should only be a “last resort”.
Adding to the uncertainty, some local authorities have raised concerns about reopening and some individual primary schools have remained closed for most pupils – along with schools officially required to stay shut because of high Coronavirus levels.
This comes after Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient has become the first to receive the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19, after Over half a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were made ready for use on Monday.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said school was the “right place” for children, wherever possible.
“When it comes to schools, we’ve taken the decision not to reopen schools in some of the most affected areas.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that:
“But these are difficult balances – and people will have very mixed emotions,”
If schools are closed, Labour shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has called for support for parents unable to work because of childcare problems.
“It’s very hard to tell how many school buildings will be open,” said Paul Whiteman, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.
But he said heads would do “everything they can to provide the maximum provision that their circumstances allow”.
Secondary schools are staying closed this week except for vulnerable and key workers’ children – and in local authorities with high levels of coronavirus, including across London, primary schools are also not open to most pupils.
But reopening primary schools in other areas, including for some in Tier 4, has been challenged, with the biggest teachers’ union, the National Education Union, calling for teaching to be moved online for the first two weeks of term.
The NEU has advised teachers they can work from home on safety grounds – with the union saying a letter for staff to send to head teachers informing them of this has been downloaded more than 5,000 times.
This comes after a 90-year-old grandmother-of-four became the first patient in the world to receive Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccination outside of a trial. Mrs Keenan, who lives in Coventry but is originally from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, was given the vaccine by nurse May Parsons at Coventry’s University Hospital.
A joint letter from education unions, including teachers and support staff, says bringing pupils back to school “risks increasing the infection rate” and means exposing school staff to “serious risk of ill-health”.
The letter, co-ordinated by the TUC, calls for priority access to Covid vaccines for school staff and to move lessons online “while Covid-secure working arrangements are reviewed”.
Any school closures should be kept to an “absolute minimum”, said Amanda Spielman, head of the Ofsted education watchdog, because “children’s lives can’t just be put on hold while we wait for vaccination programmes”.
Sarah Shirras, head teacher of St Williams’ Primary School in Norwich, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “regrettable” that her school has closed on Monday.
She said a “whole number of factors” influenced the decision, including advice from teachers’ unions.