Official figures dash No 10’s hopes of phased reopening to allow parents back to work
Only one in four children returned to schools in England last week, wrecking Boris Johnson’s ambitions for a phased reopening of schools to allow parents back to work to boost the economy.
According to official statistics published by the government, just over half of primary schools in England reopened to more pupils last week.
Only a quarter of pupils who were eligible to return from 1 June, the first week that schools in England began admitting more children in reception, year 1 and year 6, actually turned up.
Figures published by the Department for Education show that just 52% of schools opened to these three year groups, reflecting continuing safety concerns among headteachers, parents and local authorities.
Year 6 girls walk to school in east London. Schools in England reopened to reception and years 1 and 6 on 1 June. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
Ministers say numbers have gone up this week, but the government has been forced as a result to back down on its ambition to get all primary school children back in class for a month before the summer holidays.
Announcing the figures, the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “It is encouraging to see the majority of primary schools open their doors to more pupils, and almost double the number of children now attending early years settings.
“This is still a difficult time for families and many feel anxious about their children going back – but I can reassure families, and those working in education settings, that the welfare of children and staff will continue to be at the heart of all our decisions.
“Families should also be reassured by the incredible work teachers and support staff are doing to adapt their settings and routines, while making sure schools and nurseries remain as welcoming as they have always been.”
Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than 11 weeks ago because of the Covid-19 outbreak, though most have remained open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
According to the latest DfE figures, 91% of educational settings were open last week, up from 80% in May.
Almost 690,000 children were in school on 4 June, which represents 6.9% of all pupils who normally attend school – an increase from 21 May, when about 244,000 (2.6%) were in attendance, which reflects the wider opening of schools to children in nursery, reception and years 1 and 6.
Approximately 166,000 children attended early years settings on 4 June, up from 88,000 on 21 May. This represents about 10% of the number of children who usually attend, according to the DfE analysis.
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “The figures released show what a very long way the government has to go to convince the nation’s parents and teachers that a wider opening of schools is safe.
“Just 35% of eligible schools (state and independent) opened any additional classes on Monday 1 June; this rose to 52% by the end of the week. These reflect National Education Union figures last week showing that 44% of state schools did not start opening more widely on 1 June.
“These government proposals were not discussed with unions representing teachers, school leaders or support staff before they were announced. We call on the government to work with the teaching profession and education unions to develop a secure plan for the wider opening of schools and invest the necessary resources to make it a success.”
(Source: The Guardian)