Children's return to school is ‘start of road back to normality’
- Credit: James Bass Photography
The reopening of schools for all pupils on Monday marks the "beginning of the road back to normality", the Education Secretary has said.
Pupils have spent months learning remotely and those returning to secondary schools will find safety measures including face coverings in classrooms while rapid coronavirus tests have also been introduced.
Gavin Williamson said schools reopening marked the first stage of opening up society as part of lockdown easing.
"This is our first step, our real first step in terms of moving out of national lockdown and it is our schools that are leading the way," he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
"We are very much factoring in as part of the road map that actually schools will be staying open.
"That is why we are taking a cautious approach because we intend for it to be an irreversible approach and that schools will continue to remain open."
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He gave a guarantee that schools would return again after the Easter holidays.
All of Norfolk's primary schools are on track to reopen to all pupils from Monday, Norfolk County Council has said. However the return of students at some secondary schools will be phased to allow for testing.
Chris Snudden, the council’s director of inclusion and learning in children’s services, said: “We have asked all Norfolk schools to tell us about any issues that might affect their readiness to open for all pupils on or from March 8.
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“From this information, we are confident that all schools will be open in line with the national expectations next week.
“We are really keen to encourage parents to return their children to school so that the rest of the term is an opportunity to get back to school life, in readiness to take full advantage of the summer term.”
Richard Cranmer, chief executive of St Benet’s Multi Academy Trust, said: “Our initial focus across all of our academies will be to support the well-being of our children and to enable them to adjust to school life and re-engage with face to face learning in the classroom environment along with their peers.
“Every one of us can’t wait for the classrooms, corridors and playgrounds to come alive again with the sounds of children learning and playing together.”
Under the Government’s reopening plans primary school pupils won’t be Covid tested but all secondary school and college pupils and staff will be encouraged to undergo twice weekly testing.
Initially, this will be at school or college but then people will be encouraged to use home tests.
Headteachers have warned that the reluctance to give parental consent for tests could cause the return at some secondary schools to be slower.
While some Norfolk secondaries have completed mass testing programmes in a bid for all pupils to be back in lessons on Monday, the government has allowed schools to invite in some pupils for their first Covid tests this week to help manage the flow through testing stations.
Jon Ford, principal of Open Academy Norwich, said: Obviously, it is not possible to get everyone back at the same time, so we will be prioritising the older year groups and then those who missed most through self-isolation in the second lock down.”
Former local head Geoff Barton, now general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union, said: "There will be a full return but it will be from - not on - Monday.”
He said one issue has been obtaining parental consent to carry out Covid tests on pupils.
“This is most likely to be simply a matter of oversight with some parents not returning forms and we would urge them to do so,” he said.
“There may also be parents who are nervous about testing because they have seen or heard misinformation and we would encourage them to speak to their school if they have concerns.”
Secondary school students and staff are also advised to wear face coverings wherever social distancing cannot be maintained, including in the classroom. But the measure - set for review at Easter - is not mandatory.