The British Medical Association has done a U-turn on its support for the teaching unions and said schools should reopen if it is safe to do so.
Last night a final decision on whether to reopen schools on June 1 was left hanging in the balance after discussions between Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and the teaching unions made no breakthrough.
The BMA was pulled into the stand-off when Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the BMA Council, wrote a letter backing the National Education Union after it advised its members ‘not to engage’ with the Government proposals.
But the chairman of the BMA’s Public Health Medicine Committee, Dr Peter English, wrote in today’s Telegraph of ‘growing evidence that the risk to individual children from Covid-19 is extremely small.’
Schoolchildren wearing protective mouth masks and face shields attend a course in a classroom at Claude Debussy college in Angers, western France
A teacher wears a protective visor and the mandatory mask during class in Cascais, Portugal on Monday
Pupils apply social distancing measures in class at Benzenberg secondary school in Duesseldorf, Germany, 19 May
The bold stance of Dr Nagpaul in his letter to Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU, in which he said the BMA was ‘completely aligned’ with the union, is understood to have irked many BMA members.
Dr English wrote in The Telegraph: ‘The Government’s decision on whether to reopen schools is a finely balanced and unenviable one.’
But the reopening of schools has been further kicked into the long grass by one of its SAGE advisers saying that the reopening of schools in ten days depended on an effective track and trace system.
Dame Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said that before ministers attempted any changes to lockdown measures an effective system was needed to isolated those infected by the coronavirus.
Locks on the school gates ensure no entry at Invicta Grammar School in Maidstone, Kent
Last night a final decision on whether to reopen schools on June 1 was left hanging in the balance after discussions between Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (pictured) and the teaching unions made no breakthrough
The BMA was pulled into the stand-off when Chaand Nagpaul (pictured), the chairman of the BMA Council, wrote a letter backing the National Education Union after it advised its members ‘not to engage’ with the Government proposals
She told The Times that this should be based on ‘observed levels of infection . . . and not on a fixed date’.
JUST 5% OF TEACHERS THINK IT’S SAFE TO REOPEN, POLL SHOWS
A poll from teachers’ union NASUWT suggested that only 5% of teachers think it will be safe for more pupils to return to school next month.
In a letter to the Education Secretary, Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the union remains ‘unconvinced’ that wider reopening of schools from June 1 is ‘appropriate or practicable’.
The survey, of nearly 29,000 NASUWT members across England, found that around nine in 10 teachers believe that social distancing will be impossible, or will present major issues and a similar proportion are not confident that the proposed measures will protect their health or the health of pupils.
It also found that 87% of teachers believe that PPE is essential to protect staff against the virus.
And John Edmunds, another SAGE member, told Sky News that a track and trace system must be ’embedded and working well’ before schools should throw open their doors.
Mr Williamson is pushing for the reopening of primary schools for reception classes and Years 1 and 6 on June 1.
Officials accept that some local authorities will refuse, but believe that academy schools could reopen and form a ‘bridgehead’ to show parents that classes can operate safely.
But some senior figures in government are reluctant to press ahead if the reopening is likely to be boycotted by a large proportion of schools and parents.
Downing Street indicated that Boris Johnson was not wedded to the June 1 deadline.
Experts have repeatedly warned that the pause in education will affect disadvantaged children the most.
And 22 European Union states have partially reopened schools without any evidence of an increase in infections.
Ministers are also facing a nationwide rebellion against reopening from councils.
In other developments last night:
- The deputy chief scientific adviser said changes to the lockdown, which would include schools reopening, needed a highly effective track and trace system to be in place first;
- Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was poised to enter the row by backing the unions, while his successor, Sir Keir Starmer, faced accusations that he had gone missing;
- Official figures showed the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 fell by more than a third in the week before the VE Day holiday;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned of an unprecedented recession with unemployment having soared to 2.1million;
- Furloughed workers were urged to ‘pick for Britain’ by taking on fruit and vegetable harvesting;
- A minister suggested mistakes in the coronavirus strategy were the result of poor scientific advice;
- Captain Thomas Moore is to be knighted for his extraordinary fundraising efforts;
- Hopes for a summer getaway suffered a blow last night as Downing Street played down the prospect of foreign flights;
- Experts warned that thousands of cancer patients might die early due to delays to surgery;
- Research showed Type 2 diabetics are twice as likely to die from coronavirus and obesity further increases the risk;
- A study found the global lockdown drove carbon emissions down by 17 per cent.
An NEU spokesman said: ‘This Government is putting an unbearable strain on school leaders and the wider education workforce to work through an impracticable and potentially unsafe timetable.
‘The NEU’s position is well known and well recorded. We want the wider opening of schools when Government provides the scientific evidence to show it is safe to do so. We believe the vast majority of head teachers agree with us and will work with us to avoid any prospect of unsafe working environments.
‘We continuously engage with our members and the wider school community on how best to guarantee this. Families also need to know that there is a sensible and measured approach to the wider opening of schools.’
A DfE spokesman said: ‘We have engaged closely with a range of relevant organisations, including the unions, throughout the past eight weeks, including organising for them to hear directly from the Government’s scientific advisers last Friday, and will continue to do so. We have also published detailed guidance on the protective measures schools should take.’
A teacher during a Physics class for 11th grade students at a lyceum-boarding school in Kaliningrad, Russia, on Monday
‘Large numbers’ of children as young as 11 could be grabbed by county lines drugs gangs if school is out until September
Young teenagers could be recruited in ‘large numbers’ by county lines drugs gangs if secondary schools do not fully reopen until September, a police and crime commissioner has said.
The West Midlands’ Labour commissioner David Jamieson, who is also a former teacher, added youngsters aged 11-14 could be ‘swept up’ by criminals, because they are not in lessons.
The Government has said it wants some primary school pupils to be back in lessons ‘at the earliest’ by June 1, and some ‘face-to-face support’ for secondary pupils in Years 10 and 12, who are facing exams.
Mr Jamieson, speaking at the region’s strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday, said he was also concerned about young men who may find themselves out of work after furlough ends, falling into crime.
Turning to the reopening of some schools in England from June, he said: ‘I very much welcome the reopening, as long as it’s safe to do so.
‘But I have a concern that one group of children was not mentioned and that’s children in earlier secondary years, 11 to 14-years-of-age.
‘Years seven, eight and nine, there was no intention of them going back to school before September.
‘Now that is profoundly concerning to me – large numbers of younger children, those more likely to be swept up by the gangs and taken into County Lines getting into all sorts of other things, very undesirable things.
‘Those children will be available for those criminals to take them on.
‘I think the Government needs to urgently look at that.
‘That if the schools are going to reopen there is going to have to be some ongoing education for those younger teenagers as well.
‘It could be making provision for them to have good-quality distance learning or having some time in the school so they keep contact with their studies.’
He added: ‘Once those children have got out of the discipline of getting up in the morning, doing the work and the rhythm that there is of being in school.
‘By September, or even beyond as we hear, that may be very difficult to re-start that, particularly I think for young boys.’