Some schools could reopen in summer holidays to help pupils catch up, says education secretary

Will Taylor
News Reporter
Gavin Williamson said he is examining proposals to reopen some schools over summer, staffed by volunteers. (PA Images)

Education secretary Gavin Williamson is looking “very closely” at reopening some schools over the summer holidays.

Speaking in Parliament, Williamson also defended the government’s bid to reopen some classes in primary schools as part of its easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, possibly as early as 1 June.

He was responding to Robert Halfon, Conservative chairman of the Education Select Committee, who proposed “some schools” be opened over the summer “to be staffed by volunteers, graduates, an army of retired teachers to provide catch up tuition to these children who have been left behind”.

Williamson said the MP was right to highlight “the many volunteers, many thousands of volunteers that want to reach out, help our children, in order to be able to have the knowledge to succeed in the future”.

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He said the government is “very closely looking at such schemes, working with schools, working with the sector to (see) how we can make that available to them”.

The government has said it will look to bring back reception, year 1 and year 6 classes back from 1 June at the earliest.

It follows a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions this week, announced by Boris Johnson on Sunday evening.

Johnson said that by June, the government might be able “to return children to early years settings, including nurseries and childminders, and to return primary schools in stages giving priority to youngest children in reception and year 1 and those in year 6 preparing for secondary school”.

“And to enable secondary school pupils facing exams next year to get at least some time with their teachers,” he added.

“Our ambition, and I stress this is conditional, is for all primary school pupils to return to the classroom for a month before the summer break.”

He said: “When you have medical and scientific advice that is saying it’s the right time to start bringing schools back in a phased and controlled manner, it seems only the right thing to do and the only responsible thing to do.”

Schools should look different under government advice designed to lower risk of the coronavirus spreading.

Class sizes should be limited to 15 pupils, and staggered lunch and break times, as well as varied drop-off and pickup times, are recommended.

One way flow around schools or dividers in corridors could be implemented to help limit contact.

Primary pupils may also be sent to other schools, but families will not be penalised if they decide against taking up a place, the government has said.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, described the plans as “nothing short of reckless” on Sunday.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said she wanted wants schools to reopen but added the “the guidance provided so far does not yet provide the clear assurances over safety that are needed”.

Yesterday, a primary headteacher told Yahoo News UK he could not see how social distancing could be implemented in schools yet.

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