Let ALL children go back to class: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calls on Labour-run councils to open every primary school
- Primary pupils in England welcomed back to school despite union warnings
- But some Labour councils refused to implement Government re-open schedules
- Education Secretary Gavin Williamson fears some children could be left behind
Children in areas where councils have so far refused to reopen schools must be allowed to return to classes, the Education Secretary says today.
Primary pupils across England were welcomed back by their teachers yesterday despite warnings from the hardline National Education Union.
Up to 70 per cent of eligible youngsters returned after a ten-week absence.
Just checking: A teacher takes a temperature at the Harris Academy Primary School in Croydon. Schools across England reopened to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children yesterday, with many classes split in half and attending on different days
However, dozens of councils – mainly Labour-controlled authorities in the North of England – are refusing to implement the Government’s reopening schedule, leaving hundreds of thousands of pupils missing out.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson praised the dedication of heads and teachers that has allowed pupils to return safely, but said he feared some children could be ‘left behind’.
He said the break in their education caused by the lockdown was the ‘biggest disruption’ since the Second World War.
Writing in the Daily Mail today, Mr Williamson says: ‘We hope those local authorities still not convinced will now work with us to overcome any remaining practical issues.
Primary pupils across England were welcomed back by their teachers yesterday despite warnings from the hardline National Education Union. Parents are seen dropping off children at Queen’s Hill Primary School, Costessey, Norfolk
‘One of my greatest fears all along has been that all the work we have done to narrow the attainment gap over the last ten years could be undone.
‘For each day that children miss out on formal lessons, their hopes and future chances are put at risk.’
Schools across England reopened to Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children yesterday, with many classes split in half and attending on different days.
One pupil, Grace, is seen arriving at primary school in Norfolk. Official figures for the turnout in England will not be available for some weeks
James Hollinsley, head teacher at Longwood Primary Academy in Harlow, Essex, said: ‘The mood of pupils, staff and parents has been really positive – they are happy that school is back.’
Official figures for the turnout in England will not be available for some weeks, but a survey by the National Foundation for Education Research indicated the rate was expected to be 53 per cent or around 1million pupils.
The Association of School and College Leaders reported seeing a ‘very mixed’ situation, with an anticipated attendance rate of between 40 and 70 per cent of England’s more than 2million eligible children.
But a swathe of Labour-run councils rejected the Government’s call for schools to resume lessons yesterday, prompting accusations of political point-scoring.
Last night some parents whose schools were not reopening said they feared their children’s future would suffer as a result.
Research by the Daily Mail and the Press Association found that out of at least 25 authorities which backed schools continuing to restrict lessons to only vulnerable children or those with key worker parents, all but four are in the North, and 21 have either a majority or minority Labour administration.
Last night Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, warned: ‘Labour councils are prepared to sacrifice the interests of children from working class families who are the ones who are losing out the most.’
Ignoring advice from the Government’s scientific advisory group, Sage, the National Education Union has warned that school reopenings were ‘unsafe and untenable’ in a campaign backed by Labour MPs.
The Association of School and College Leaders reported seeing a ‘very mixed’ situation, with an anticipated attendance rate of between 40 and 70 per cent of England’s more than 2million eligible children. Students at the Harris Academy Primary School in Croydon are pictured above
The Mail previously exposed how the union admitted its stand against reopening was merely a ‘negotiating position’ meant to inflict political pain on the Tory government.
Kevin Courtney of the NEU said the union still thought ‘it would have been safer for all schools to begin the move to a wider reopening in a couple of weeks time’.
Yesterday there were kisses and hugs at the school gates as usual for children returning to classes – but there was also a great deal that would have seemed unfamiliar.
Schools rose to the challenge with a mixture of formal measures and practical ideas.
These included removing soft furnishings that might harbour germs, and using marquees for extra space.
I fear for the youngsters who will be left behind if they do not return to school soon, writes Education Secretary GAVIN WILLIAMSON
The past weeks have been a challenging time for parents, children and teachers alike, as families adjusted to school closures and millions of youngsters faced life without the structure of the school day, the support of their teachers or the friendship of their classmates.
So how heart-warming it was to see pictures from across the country yesterday as the first tranche of children made their way back to school in the sunshine.
Their smiles said it all. And for parents too, no doubt, there were a few sighs of relief.
For teachers, who love their job as much as children love their school, there would also have been joy, even if mixed with some trepidation.
Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary, arrives at Downing Street
Slowly but surely, life is returning towards something more normal, albeit with measures to ensure the virus is kept in check.
That has taken considerable work behind the scenes, and it is thanks to the dedication of heads, teachers and other staff that so many pupils were able to get back into their classrooms yesterday.
I was determined if the science allowed to make sure that children could be with their friends and teachers again.
Yet, while it has been wonderful to see so many happy faces back in school, what pains me is the thought of children being left behind in the wake of this dreadful outbreak.
Some of them are among the ranks of the most vulnerable children in our society.
We have hopefully answered the questions and concerns posed by those who have opposed the return of more pupils.
And we hope those local authorities still not convinced will now work with us to overcome remaining practical issues.
One of my greatest fears has been that all the work we have done to narrow the attainment gap over the last ten years could be undone.
For each day that children miss out on formal lessons, their hopes and future chances are put at risk.
Williamson: Our youngest children and those preparing for exams next year are those who need most to be back in school
We’ve seen the biggest disruption to education since the Second World War. But, crucially, now is the time for recovery, not recriminations.
Our youngest children and those preparing for exams next year are those who need most to be back in school.
At times, there have been some who appeared to look for difficulties instead of safe, deliverable solutions – all of them based on the best scientific and medical advice, and with strict safety rules in place.
Schools – and the armies of marvellous teachers who nurture our children – offer pupils a springboard of optimism and opportunity. It is one that all pupils deserve.
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