Response: The Phased Reopening of Schools

I have received a huge amount of campaign emails from constituents about the phased reopening of schools. Whilst I send personal responses to individually written enquiries, the level of correspondence that my office receives on a daily basis means that I can not justify the time spent in responding individually to campaign emails. 

I understand the strong feeling on this issue so please find my response below: 

Thank you for contacting me about the phased reopening of schools.

I believe it is important that we get children back to school as soon as it is safe to do so. As you know, since 23 March 2020 education and childcare settings have only been open to priority groups (vulnerable children and children of critical workers). Now that we have made progress in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, the Prime Minister has set out plans for a phased reopening of schools and educational settings. As a father of two Primary aged children and a former member of the Education Select Committee I’m more than aware of the challenges schools are facing, and also of the problems faced by our most disadvantaged children whilst they are off school. My own children have been attending school throughout this period, so I’m not in any way trying to ask others to do something that I would not do myself.

From 1 June at the earliest, primary schools in England may be able to welcome back children in key transition years – nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6. As the Prime Minister has said, progress will be monitored and schools will only reopen if the five key tests set by Government justify the changes at the time, including that the rate of infection is decreasing. The NEU Union has set out five tests of its own as prerequisites to reopening schools, which are in fact very similar to those the Government has already announced. 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 when educational settings reopen, 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. We are well on the way to being able to meet all the requirements that have been made by June 1st.

I know that keeping children and staff safe has been the upmost priority for Ministers in making decisions about opening schools for more children, but I also appreciate that teachers and parents may have concerns about these plans. It is very welcome that the latest scientific advice indicates that more children will be able to return to school from 1 June, but it will be important to continue to limit overall numbers in school and introduce protective measures to prevent transmission. An overview of the latest scientific information can be viewed here.

In addition, sector representatives have attended an expert panel to be briefed on the science underpinning government decisions. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) regularly publishes papers outlining the scientific advice provided to the government. Further batches will be published in due course.

I am pleased that clear guidance has been published to help schools prepare for the wider reopening. The guidance providing details of what educational settings need to do, including advice on implementing social distancing and protective measures. The County Council have also written to schools to confirm that they have the power to plan as they see fit and to open at the time they see fit. This may not be precisely on June the 1st, though we are aiming for that date, but will be when the school is ready and the staff are happy that they have everything they need in place. You can therefore have confidence that if your school opens it does so because all involved in the running of it, including the staff at the school, are comfortable that they can offer what is needed to ensure the safety of our children.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.