Teachers say schools should only fully open when it is 'safe' after Boris Johnson pushes back opening

TEACHERS say it is important those within the educational environment are ‘safe’ following the prime minister’s announcement that schools are now likely to open in March not in February.

Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 6:03 pm

Lockdown measures will remain in place until at least March 8, Boris Johnson said as he earmarked that date to begin the reopening of England's schools.

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Schools to reopen on 8 March in England - what Boris Johnson said

The prime minister confirmed that hopes of pupils returning to class after the February half-term have been abandoned as the battle with coronavirus remained ‘perilous’.

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Park Community School headteacher, Chris Anders, said he is excited about the return of pupils to school but has warned about the challenges ahead. Picture: Sarah Standing

The March date is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.

Teachers agreed with Mr Johnson that safety should take priority when deciding whether to open schools but questions were raised over his ‘misplaced optimism’ in setting a date.

Chris Anders, headteacher of Park Community School in Havant, said pushing back the reopening was ‘not a surprise’.

‘It is more a question whether the community feels safer about schools reopening. That is the most important thing rather than what the government says,’ he said.

‘Everyone needs to feel safe to be able to come back and be educated. People need to know they are not going to pick it up at school and bring it back home.

‘Schools are a tight environment and there is seen to be an increased risk of transmission.

‘Before Christmas there was an increase in pupils catching Covid. The problem you then have with classes of 20 or 30 is you have dozens having to isolate.’

Mr Anders believes there will be a gradual increase with certain year groups allowed back in bubbles.

He also thought that vaccinating staff could be part of the government’s plans before fully reopening schools.

He added: ‘(Reopening schools) depends on how they are getting on with vaccinations. They will look at the death rate and hospitalisations and then decide if it is safe.’

In the week commencing February 22, the government will publish its plan for taking the country out of lockdown.

Portsmouth teacher Amanda Martin, a National Education Union representative, agreed with Mr Johnson that schools are only opened when it is ‘safe to do so’.

‘He has a duty to assess the easing of lockdown according to the progress and effects of vaccination, a reduction in cases and the various other criteria he has set out,’ she said.

‘But in setting out a potential date of March 8, falling once again into his characteristic and too often misplaced optimism, he is pre-empting a decision that will have to be made in mid-February at the very earliest.

‘If we come out too early, we will end up in lockdown again. Hinging his argument for schools according to the first four vaccine groups developing immunity by March 8, is not enough in itself.

‘This may protect the elderly and most vulnerable adults in the population, but it does not protect parents. It fails completely to recognise the role schools have played in community transmission.

‘The prime minister has already forgotten what he told the nation at the beginning of this lockdown, that schools are a “vector for transmission”.’

Ms Martin added that it will be ‘good’ that schools are guaranteed a two-week notice before opening but ‘to suggest a date at this stage runs the risk of creating false hope’.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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