Two in five primary schools in England did not reopen more widely – poll

More than two in five primary schools in England did not open their doors to more children on Monday, a survey suggests.

The proportion of schools that have reopened to pupils in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England varies significantly depending on the region, according to the National Education Union (NEU).

A poll from the NEU has found that 44% of schools did not admit any of the year groups suggested by Boris Johnson on June 1 – and in north-west England, only 8% of schools opened to all these year groups.

The findings come as children across England have been returning to primary school after the Government eased lockdown measures across the country.

More than a third (35%) of schools opened on June 1 on the terms expected by the Prime Minister, according to the poll of 10,953 NEU members in primary schools between May 31 and June 1.

And more than one in five (21%) schools opened more widely to children on Monday, but not to all year groups set out by Boris Johnson.

By the end of this week, an additional 6% of schools will have reopened to more children, the poll suggests, but the majority of them to fewer than the eligible year groups set out by the Government.

Just 12 per cent of schools in the North East opened fully to all the suggested year groups on Monday, compared to 50% of schools in the east of England, the NEU survey suggests.

Schools, colleges and nurseries closed more than 10 weeks ago due to the Covid-19 outbreak, remaining open only for vulnerable youngsters and the children of key workers.

A recent survey of councils by the PA news agency found dozens of local authorities across England, predominantly in the north, were advising against a wider return to school on Monday.

Wigan Council, which had originally advised its schools to reopen on June 8, is now asking its primary schools to delay reopening until June 15 so risk assessments can be carried out.

Coronavirus – Mon Jun 1, 2020
Pupils sit at separate desks at Hiltingbury Infant School in Chandler’s Ford, Hampshire, as pupils begin to return to school (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

It is not yet clear how many parents opted to send their children back to school, but the NEU survey suggests that the majority (57%) of members expected at least 50% of eligible pupils to stay home.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, warned MPs that headteachers fear some disadvantaged children will never return.

She warned that the number of children failing to reach their potential amid lengthy school closures will be “immense”.

Ms Longfield added that shops reopening and a spell of good weather could distract children from doing their school work at home.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “It was always reckless of Boris Johnson to set an arbitrary date and expect schools to fall in line.

“Heads and their staff know far more about their individual challenges than Whitehall ever will.

“As the regional variation according to coronavirus levels show, schools are listening to the science rather than politicians.”

He added: “This disconnect should be a wake-up call for Government. Not only is the safety of the Government’s plan in question but also the feasibility of it and confidence of headteachers in what the Prime Minister requested.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “From this week, many schools have begun welcoming children from Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 back to the classroom as part of a phased and cautious approach.

“To prepare for this, headteachers and school staff have been doing an excellent job including putting protective measures in place and engaging with parents and children. We will continue to support schools who haven’t yet been able to open more widely to do so as soon as possible.”