Boris Johnson’s plan to reopen primary schools next month have been described by a teaching union as “nothing short of reckless”.
As the prime minister announced a partial lifting of the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday night, he also laid out plans for a phased return of schools.
Reception, year 1 and year 6 pupils “may” be able to return on 1 June at the earliest, Johnson said.
The PM also expressed his desire for secondary school pupils with exams next year to “get at least some time with their teachers before the holidays”, though he didn’t state a target date for this.
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He added: “We will shortly be setting out detailed guidance on how to make it work in schools”.
However, the plans were criticised by teaching unions on Sunday night.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said: “We think that the announcement by the government that schools may reopen from 1 June with reception and years 1 and 6 is nothing short of reckless.
“Coronavirus continues to ravage communities in the UK and the rate of COVID-19 infection is still far too great for the wider opening of our schools.”
She added: “If schools are re-opened to blatant breaches of health and safety, we will strongly support our members who take steps to protect their pupils, their colleagues and their families.
“The worst outcome of any wider re-opening of schools is a second spike of COVID-19 infection.”
Patrick Roach, general secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT, said the government’s announcement “risks thousands of schools rushing to make decisions about how best to safeguard the health and safety of children and staff in the absence of any clear national guidance”.
He added: “It is baffling that following the government’s decision to close all schools on public health grounds, that the government now expects individual schools to work out for themselves whether or not it will be safe to reopen on June 1 and potentially put at risk the health of children, staff and the public.”
It comes as a petition calling on parents to be given the option of not sending their children back to school gathered thousands of signatures in the wake of the PM’s speech.
The petition, on change.org, had gathered more than 166,000 signatures as of 9.45pm on Sunday.
It read: “So far there has been little assurance of what measures will be made to protect people and manage these risks. Even drop-off and collection could increase risk of transmission among parents.
“We need the government to be transparent with us and put things in place before we can consider placing our trust in this decision.”