The earliest “realistic” point at which schools in England could start re-opening would be 1 June, head teachers’ leader Geoff Barton has said.
“We cannot see any realistic way that schools could be re-opened to more pupils before the second half of the summer term,” he said. And “planning would need to begin very soon” in order to meet a 1 June target.
Schools closed their doors to all except vulnerable children and those of key workers over a month ago. At the weekend, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said no date was set for returning to school, quashing speculation about an imminent return.
The education secretary said if and when five thresholds in the fight against coronavirus were reached, a date could be set for schools to reopen:
the NHS’s ability to cope is fully protected
the daily death rate is dropping
infection rates are falling to manageable levels
there are sufficient supplies of testing and protective equipment
there is no risk of a “second peak” of infections
But it would not be immediate, with schools expecting a further “lead in” time, possibly of weeks, to prepare for a complicated, staged return that allows them to maintain social distancing.
Parents would also have to be persuaded it was safe.
And already doubt is being cast on schools’ ability to maintain social distancing. Katharine Birbalsingh, head of Michaela Community School, in Brent, north London, criticised the “pretence” social distancing might work in schools, with narrow corridors, small classrooms and lots of interactions, particularly between younger children.
“Social distancing in schools is simply impossible,” she said.
“We’re considered to be the strictest school in Britain and even we would find it impossible.”