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The back-to-school row has been simmering all week after the Government announced its plans to begin reopening schools as part of the gradual easing of coronavirus lockdown measures. Teaching unions have warned the planned return date is too soon and would put children, teachers and other school staff members at risk of contracting COVID-19. Some local authorities, including Liverpool City Council, have said they will not reopen schools on June 1.
The clear scientific and clinical advice is that it is safe to have schools reopen with social distancing
But cabinet Office minister Michael Gove today issued a fresh appeal to teaching unions and to councils which oppose the move.
He said: “The clear scientific and clinical advice is that it is safe to have schools reopen accompanied with social distancing.
“Children only have one chance at education. Over the last decade we have made significant strides in closing the closing the gap between the richest and poorest in our schools. This lockdown has put that at risk.
“If progressive countries like Denmark can be teaching children and have them back in schools, then so should we. The whole point about being a teacher is you love your job. It is a mission, a vocation, to be able to excite young minds.”
Express.co.uk back-to-school poll (Image: GETTY)
Mr Gove said the R number – the transmission rate of the disease – remained below one, the level at which experts warn COVID-19 will begin to spread again exponentially.
He said the Government was on track to meet its target of getting 18,000 contact tracers by next week, with 17,200 now recruited.
As a result, the coronavirus test, track and trace programme would be up and running by the end of month, putting them in a stronger position to deal with any fresh outbreaks, he added.
He said: “As we make progress – and we are making progress – in keeping the R rate below one and in reducing the number of infections, so if there is an outbreak we can test, track, trace and isolate so the situation is now better.
“We cannot have a situation where we keep our economy and our schools and our public services continually closed down because the health consequences of doing so would be malign as well.”
The Government’s plans received a boost from the Association of School and College Leaders which said it would now advise schools to begin reopening from June 1.
Primary school pupils could be back in class on June 1 (Image: PA)
General secretary Geoff Barton said the body had been “reassured” by talks on Friday with Government scientific advisers.
But he warned some schools may need more time to put the necessary preparations in place.
He said: “If schools decide they are not ready to open at that time, or that they need to take a more phased approach such as using rotas, we will back them up on that decision.”
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Ministers want primary schools to reopen on June 1 (Image: PA)
Other unions have said Friday’s briefing raised more questions than answers and have welcomed an offer of further talks with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner backed councils such as Liverpool which have said they will not reopen schools on June 1.
She said there were concerns among authorities in the north of England that the virus was still spreading there more quickly than elsewhere in the country.
She told The Andrew Marr Show: “We believe the R rate is higher in those areas, in those regions, so therefore we want the Government to publish the science behind it and provide the support.
“Councils want to make sure their citizens are safe. I support them in trying to do that.”
Earlier, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, voiced her “despair” that the continued “squabbling” between ministers and unions was impacting on children’s life chances.
Coronavirus lockdown (Image: EXPRESS.CO.UK)
She said ways had to be found to managing the risks around coronavirus while an effective treatment or vaccine was found.
She said: “My worry within all that is that the needs of children and the best interests of children are disappearing from view.”